By Dave Wagner
It’s a long road back to respectability for the West Texas A&M football team, but second-year coach Ronnie Jones thinks the Buffaloes are headed in the right direction.
WT brings a potent offense and a suspect defense into Saturday’s 1 p.m. Lone Star Conference South Division contest against Eastern New Mexico University at Blackwater Draw, and Jones admits his program still has a ways to go.
“I don’t think anybody fears us,” he chuckled of the Buffs’ pass-happy attack, led by junior quarterback Derek Maupin. “But I think we’ve kind of earned some respect around the conference.”
While they haven’t won many games, the Buffs (2-7, 1-3 South) have gotten the attention of opponents behind Maupin, who averages about 45 passes a game and completes around 57 percent of them.
ENMU coach Bud Elliott calls it a “West Coast-style” offense, featuring mostly short, quick passes.
“This is the best WT team we’ve faced for a while,” Elliott said. “Maupin seems to be having a lot of success with their passing game.
“We’re going to have to control the football as much as we possibly can.”
ENMU (6-3, 2-3) has won the last four meetings in the schools’ “Wagon Wheel” series, but had to work hard last year in last year’s 27-16 win at Canyon against what turned out to be an 0-11 squad.
Last month, the freshman-laden Buffs ended a 24-game losing streak against LSC opponents with a 30-17 win at Texas A&M-Commerce.
Of the 44 players listed on the team’s two-deep roster (offense and defense), 16 are freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
WT bolted to a 14-0 lead last week against 18th-ranked Tarleton State, but couldn’t hold off the Texans in what turned into a 47-27 loss at Stephenville, Texas. TSU took the lead right before halftime, then drove for a another score following the second-half kickoff.
“I don’t know whether they caught Tarleton flat or what, but they made it a pretty good ballgame for quite a while,” Elliott said.
Tarleton’s Cliff Watkins was the passing star in that game, going 26 of 42 for 373 yards. Maupin threw only 32 passes, completing 19 for 165 yards.
Despite playing without injured junior tailback Aubrey Lacy, whom Jones said is “questionable” for this week, WT compiled 256 yards on the ground. Fullback Dominique Bibben rushed for 148 yards on 17 carries.
Like WT, the Hounds were hurt by a score just before halftime and another one early in the second half in last week’s 44-26 loss at Texas A&M-Kingsville, which moved up a notch to third in this week’s NCAA Division II rankings.
Elliott said the Hounds, who lead the LSC in scoring defense and total defense, didn’t play badly on that side of the ball against the Javelinas. He said the key touchdown came just before halftime, extending TAMK’s lead to 24-14.