By Dave Wagner
With consecutive wins under their collective belt, Eastern New Mexico University football coach Bud Elliott believes the Greyhounds are starting to hit their stride.
But as they found out last year, rival West Texas A&M is perfectly capable of throwing up a major roadblock.
The Lone Star Conference South Division foes clash in a 2 p.m. Homecoming kickoff on Saturday at Blackwater Draw, with the Hounds (3-3, 2-0 South) trying to maintain a piece of the division lead and the Buffaloes (1-4, 0-2) hoping to get off the deck.
In 2003, the Buffs were struggling when they shocked the Hounds 49-23 at Blackwater Draw, ending a four-year losing streak against ENMU with a dominating performance.
That was part of a season-ending, three-game losing streak for the Hounds.
“It usually doesn’t make much difference who’s been winning,” Elliott said of the rivalry. “Last year, we were in a downward spiral (when the teams met), and they just played harder than we did.”
Buffs coach Ronnie Jones said it’s a slow process trying to build a program which went 0-11 in 2002, his first season. But he added that they’re making strides behind a West Coast-style offense led by senior quarterback Derek Maupin.
“When you’re trying to build a program, you’ve got to remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “If we continue to get better, I think we’ve got a chance to eventually be pretty good.”
Both teams are coming off major comeback efforts last week. The Hounds erased a 23-point deficit in the final quarter to edge Angelo State 38-35, while WT wiped out most of Midwestern State’s 28-3, second-quarter cushion before falling 30-26.
Jones said the loss was disappointing, but not discouraging.
“Midwestern right now is a better football team than we are,” he said. “But I tell you what, (Indians coach) Billy Maskill would have been sick (if MSU had lost). They really outplayed us the first half, but we outplayed them the second half.”
At Angelo, the Hounds scored on five consecutive possessions — three touchdowns, two field goals — to overcome a 35-12 deficit and prevent the Rams from getting their first win of the season.
Two turnovers were vital to the ENMU comeback — a fumble on a kickoff return, forced by Theo Watson, and an interception by free safety Ty Touchstone. Both set the Hounds up deep in ASU territory.
“We kind of figured out about every way to lose it in the first three quarters,” Elliott said. “All of a sudden, we scored and then we got a turnover on the kickoff. We took advantage of everything in the fourth quarter.”
He doesn’t anticipate his team going through the same kind of meltdown it did last year against WT.
“I think we’ve been getting a little better every week for the last three weeks,” Elliott said. “I think we’re in better shape this year, attitude-wise, than we were last year when we played them.”
West Texas A&M at ENMU
2 p.m. Saturday
At Blackwater Draw
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3; KGNC-AM 710.
Records: WT 1-4 (0-2 Lone Star Conference South), ENMU 3-3 (2-0).
Coaches: WT, Ronnie Jones, 3rd year; ENMU, Bud Elliott, 11th year.
Last week: WT nearly overcame a 28-3 deficit early in the second quarter before falling to Midwestern State 30-26. ENMU erased a 23-point, fourth-quarter deficit to edge Angelo State 38-35.
Last meeting: 2003, the Buffaloes won the “Wagon Wheel” for the first time in five years, rolling to a 49-23 rout of the Greyhounds at Blackwater Draw.
WT players to watch: Derek Maupin, Sr. QB, 6-3, 210; Anthony Armstrong, Sr. WR, 6-0, 180; Nick Ashley, Jr. C; John Saluni, Sr. DT; Darrell Lewis, Jr. DE, 5-10, 225; Dominique Carter, Sr. CB, 6-0, 190; Chad Kennedy, Sr. P, 6-4, 225; Jacob Felton, Jr. PK, 6-0, 200.
Of note: ENMU sophomore placekicker Lee Price was named the D2football.com special teams national player of the week after kicking four field goals at ASU, tying the school record which he already shared. … The Buffs’ only win came at the expense of Southwestern Oklahoma (23-6), a team ENMU routed 39-0. But the four teams which have beaten WT are a combined 18-2 to this point. … Maupin completed 37-of-61 passes for 495 yards last week, with three receivers — Armstrong and juniors Tonae Martin and Jordan Grant — combining for 26 catches and 331 yards. … In last year’s clash, WT scored twice on kick returns while its defense held the Greyhounds to 68 yards rushing. … ENMU is 10-8 all-time against WT, including 4-4 at Blackwater Draw.
Quotable: “It’s a really great tribute to the kids on both teams that they never give up. Eastern and us are real similar in the type of athletes we have, and they’re never going to quit.” — WT coach Ronnie Jones, on comebacks by both the Hounds and Buffs in their games last week.