By Dave Wagner
BLACKWATER DRAW — Given Saturday’s brisk conditions, Eastern New Mexico University was less inclined than it might otherwise have been to throw against Texas A&M-Commerce’s suspect pass defense.
Matching strength against strength, the Greyhounds controlled the ball just enough with their ground attack and let their defense take care of the rest as they slugged out a 10-3 Lone Star Conference South Division victory over the Lions at Greyhound Stadium.
Needing only to run the clock out in the final 90 seconds, ENMU handed Commerce a chance to tie when redshirt freshman Fide Davalos fumbled at the TAMC 41. Two plays later, the Lions’ Jarrod Webb made a sliding 37-yard catch of a Beau Dodson pass at the Eastern 14, but safety Jonathon Solis batted down Dodson’s fourth-and-4 pass to seal it with 34 seconds left.
“We tried to give it back to them, but our defense did a great job,” ENMU coach Bud Elliott said. “Offensively, we had our moments — and then we’d shoot ourselves in the foot.”
ENMU (6-2, 2-2 South) went 80 yards in eight plays to score on its second possession, keyed by runs of 27 yards from quarterback Steven Hinson and 29 yards from running back Dwayne Davis. Jason Tezeno got the touchdown, lunging the ball over the plane of the goalline from a yard out before fumbling.
But it was tough sledding most of the day against a defense that came in allowing an LSC-best 98.7 yards rushing per game.
The Hounds held Commerce (1-7, 0-3) in check for the most part, but Joel Tudman narrowly missed what would have been a tying 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter when stepped out of bounds near midfield.
While the Lions could look at some near-misses, TAMC coach Eddie Brister was pleased with his team’s overall effort.
“If we’d have played that well last week …” Brister said before trailing off, referring to a 30-17 home shellacking at the hands of West Texas A&M. “We played with a lot more energy and ‘get-after-them’ than we did last week.
“We just didn’t move the ball well enough to take advantage of our opportunities. Any time you get the ball around the 40 or 50-yard line, you need to do something with it.”
Commerce fumbled away a golden opportunity on its first possession when Courage Idemudia jarred the ball loose from Tudman on third-and-goal from inside the 1 and linebacker Jeff Howard recovered the fumble in the end zone for a touchback.
Commerce pulled to 7-3 late in the first quarter on a 31-yard field goal by Jason Hankins. The Hounds got those points back when freshman Lee Price kicked a 46-yard field goal that skimmed off the crossbar in the final minute of the half.
The second half was mostly a game of field position.
“The defense likes that pressure; we can handle it,” junior defensive end B.J. Biggar said. “You can’t go by record in this conference. Every week’s going to be a challenge.”
ENMU held the Lions to 252 total yards, and Biggar said he thought it was one of his platoon’s better games.
“The shutout (31-0 over Angelo State) was great, but I’d say this one tops it,” he said. “This was better because there was a lot more riding on it.”
Davis was ENMU’s leading rusher with 12 carries for 72 yards, including a 13-yard run to the TAMC 32 on a fake punt in the final quarter. That kept alive a drive that eventually chewed up seven minutes.
“They weren’t coming through my gap,” said Davis, the upback in punt formation. “On our first three punts I wasn’t blocking anybody, and I told the coaches about it. I didn’t know if they’d call it, but I got some good blocks up front.”
Elliott said it simply didn’t make a lot of sense to punt in that situation and not gain much with a possible touchback.
“Defensively, they’re pretty good,” he said of the Lions. “It wasn’t a good day for throwing the football. We’d planned on throwing more, but they ended up playing us a lot of nickel stuff (five defensive backs) and we couldn’t get a real good read on what their safeties were going to do.”