By Dave Wagner
For the second week in a row, Eastern New Mexico University’s defense is facing a top-notch quarterback.
Southeastern Oklahoma’s Drew Beard, a Harlon Hill finalist last season as one of the top players in NCAA Division II football, leads the Savages into their season opener on Saturday against ENMU in a Lone Star Conference crossover game at Durant, Okla.
The Greyhounds are coming off Saturday’s 38-31 loss to QB Zak Clark and Central Arkansas at Blackwater Draw, in which they fell behind 21-0 before rallying in the second half to make a game of it.
Last season, his second as the starter for Southeastern, Beard completed 52 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards and a school-record 23 TD tosses. He also rushed for nearly 80 yards a game to lead the team.
“I think Southeastern’s quarterback is a lot like (former Texas A&M-Kingsville QB) Abel Gonzales,” ENMU coach Bud Elliott said. “He’s a good scrambler, and he throws the ball pretty well.”
Elliott said the Hounds will have to play better defensively than they did against Central Arkansas. After stopping UCA each of the first three times it had the ball, ENMU gave up scores on six of the Bears’ next eight possessions.
“Our defense is really going to have to crank it up,” Elliott said. “I didn’t feel like our defense played very well last week. We were just cautious the whole ballgame.”
Southeastern’s Keith Baxter said he’s cautiously optimistic about the season. The Savages have posted back-to-back 7-3 records and second-place finishes in the North Division.
“Coach Elliott’s team is always well-coached and plays hard,” said Baxter, an assistant at Southeastern for 12 seasons before taking over the head job in 2001. “Going into the first week, we don’t know our personality yet and you always have those first-game mistakes.”
Baxter said he sees similarities between Beard and ENMU senior quarterback Steven Hinson, the LSC South’s player of the week on offense after completing 18-of-34 passes for a career-best 271 yards and two TDs against UCA.
“They both can run the ball and they both can throw it,” Baxter said. “I think it’s going to be a fun game to watch.”
Defensively, Elliott said he’s impressed with the Savages’ line, particularly 275-pound senior tackle Reggie Johnson.
“He’s got a great motor,” Elliott said of Johnson. “He plays hard and really gets around the field.
“I think their defense is pretty good, and their defensive line is what makes them go.”
Baxter said his defense will have to play well against the Hounds.
“We have to be able to control their offense,” he said. “Any time you can put up about 500 yards against Central Arkansas, you’re doing something right. We’re going to to have to play very sound to be in the ballgame.”
ENMU at SE Oklahoma
6 p.m. (MDT) Saturday
At Durant, Okla.
Records: ENMU 0-1, Southeastern Oklahoma 0-0.
Coaches: ENMU, Bud Elliott, 11th season; SOSU, Keith Baxter, 4th season.
Last meeting: The Greyhounds beat the Savages 30-13 at Blackwater Draw in 1998 after losing at Durant 21-7 the previous year. It’s believed those are the only times the teams have met in football.
Southeastern players to watch: Drew Beard, Sr. QB, 5-10, 175; Kevin Burton, Sr. C, 6-2, 300; Lenell Lawrence, Sr. SS, 5-11, 210; Reggie Johnson, Sr. DT, 5-11, 275.
Of note: Beard was a near-unanimous choice for LSC North preseason player of the year, earning the nod on all but two ballots. He is on pace to become the LSC’s all-time total offense leader. … Beard’s top target last season, Romar Crenshaw, signed a free agent contract during the spring with the Denver Broncos. Crenshaw was Southeastern’s all-time leader in receiving yardage, receiving yards per game, all-purpose yardage, touchdown receptions and points. He has the LSC career touchdown reception record with 33. … Senior linebacker and Portales High grad Jeff Howard led the Hounds in tackles last week with 11, including eight solo stops.
Quotable: “Durant isn’t an easy place to play; it’s always humid there. It won’t be quite as bad in the evening.” — ENMU coach Bud Elliott.