By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
Ray Richards took over the Southeastern Oklahoma football program in April, but he was hardly new to the school.
A native of Illinois, Richards spent 10 seasons as the Savages’ defensive coordinator (1989-98). He returns to the Durant, Okla., school after four years as head coach at Division II Southwest Baptist (Mo.) seeking to lead Southeastern to its fourth consecutive winning season — a feat accomplished only twice in the program’s 93-year history.
“We’ve got a good, solid football team,” Richards said this week as the Savages prepared for today’s 6 p.m. Lone Star Conference crossover game against Eastern New Mexico University at Blackwater Draw. “We know we’re playing a good football team. We’re just anxious to go out there and play.”
While it will be Southeastern’s opener, the Greyhounds are trying to bounce back from last week’s 51-0 shellacking at the hands of Central Arkansas in Little Rock. Coach Mark Ribaudo, who stepped into the head coaching role this year after eight seasons as an ENMU assistant, noted that the team played at less than full strength against the Bears and said the Hounds are still nursing some injuries.
He said it’s unlikely senior All-LSC receiver Derrick Hunter will be ready to return this week from a preseason knee injury, and noted that junior running back Fide Davalos (hamstring) is out while sophomore running back J.J. Jennings, senior cornerback Corey White and freshman return man Brandon Dominguez are nursing ankle injuries.
“We were shorthanded (last week) and we’re still shorthanded,” Ribaudo said. “And, we did things (against Central Arkansas) that didn’t give us a chance to win the ballgame.”
Ribaudo said last week’s contest hinged on four ENMU turnovers and 13 “big plays” by the Bears, which he defined as runs of 12 or more yards and pass plays of 16 or more yards.
“We’re not as far away as it might seem,” he said. “They beat us on the same type of (big) plays that they beat us on last year (a 38-31 loss in the season opener at Blackwater Draw).
“Our best football is still ahead of us. We have to keep doing the things we do well, and improve on the things that we don’t do that well.”
Led by senior Harlon Hill candidate Drew Beard at quarterback, the Savages cruised to a 45-21 win over ENMU last year in Durant. They went on to an 8-3 record and notched the first NCAA Division II playoff berth in school history.
Beard’s replacement will be his backup from last season, sophomore Kolby Williams.
“He’d be a hard kid to replace on any team,” Ribaudo said of Beard. “He was just a special kid. But Southeastern will always have a good quarterback.”
Williams should be fine, Richards maintained. “He knows the system, and I think he’s ready,” he said.
At the same time, he’s been around long enough to know it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.
“They were short some players (against Central Arkansas),” Richards said. “We know they’re going to be a better team this week.
“We’ll be prepared for them. We’ve worked on a lot of the things they do.”
Southeastern Oklahoma at ENMU, 6 p.m. today, at Blackwater Draw
Records: Southeastern 0-0, ENMU 0-1.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
On the web: www.enmu.edu/athletics.
Coaches: Southeastern, Ray Richards, 1st year; ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 1st year.
Last meeting: 2004, the Savages rolled to a 45-21 win over Eastern in Durant, Okla.
Southeastern players to watch: Kolby Williams, 6-0, 185, So., QB; Andrew Spankuch, 6-5, 280, Sr., OT; Rayshaun Hollings, 6-3, 280, Jr., G; Norman Dawson, 6-3, 205, Sr., S; Pete Cuva, 6-1, 205, Jr., P/PK.
Quotable: “They have good, fundamentally sound kids. They’ll always have a pretty consistent football team because of the way they’re coached.” — Ribaudo, on Southeastern.