By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
Mark Ribaudo thinks this year’s West Texas A&M football team is the best he’s seen in his 16 years in the Lone Star Conference.
Still, that may bode well for Ribaudo’s Eastern New Mexico University squad, which is hoping to break a two-game losing streak when it takes on the 10th-ranked Buffaloes in today’s 5 p.m. Wagon Wheel game between the LSC South Division rivals in Canyon, Texas.
Ribaudo was an assistant coach for the Buffs from 1992-96 before joining the ENMU staff the following season. Meantime, third-year WT coach Don Carthel spent seven years as the Greyhounds’ head coach (1985-91) and compiled a 44-28-1 record.
“This is the best team that WT has put out that I’ve seen,” Ribaudo said. “They’re definitely a top-10 team.”
WT has come into the past two meetings a prohibitive favorite, but rallied from two-touchdown deficits both times to win. Two years ago in Canyon, the Buffs edged ENMU 52-51 in overtime, while last year at Blackwater Draw they overcame a 14-0 halftime deficit to win 21-14.
Conversely, in years where the Hounds appeared to have the upper hand going in, WT has usually given them all they want.
“It’s a special game because of my past down there,” Carthel said. “I have a lot of friends down there.
“You can throw out the records when these teams play. I think both teams will be hyped up again.”
The Buffs (6-0, 2-0 South) are coming off a 25-20 win last week at then-No. 12 Midwestern State. They bring the No. 1 passing attack in Division II into the game, while the Michael Benton-led Greyhounds (4-2, 0-2) have the No. 1 rushing attack.
Benton, held under 100 yards for the first time this season in last week’s 28-21, double-overtime loss to Angelo State, needs just 25 yards against the Buffs to reach 1,000 for the season. The senior is trying to lead Division II quarterbacks in rushing for a third consecutive year, and currently ranks No. 4 overall in Division II in rushing.
Junior running back Tim Hammett, who earned his first start last week for ENMU and rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns against Angelo, said he’s learned about the rivalry after transferring this year from New Mexico Military Institute.
“All I’ve heard about is how exciting it is,” he said. “I’m ready to get up to Canyon, Texas, and play a little football.”
Playing a wingback position for the Hounds, Hammett showed speed and the ability to make people miss last week. His scoring runs covered 35 and 23 yards.
“I’ve realized in making the move from juco (junior college) to Division II, it’s a little faster,” he said. “You have to make sharper cuts to be effective.
“That’s kind of what I do. I’m good at making people miss.”
WT junior Keith Null has stepped in at quarterback for the graduated Dalton Bell, and the Buffs haven’t missed a beat. He has already thrown for more than 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns.
“I’m really proud of Keith Null,” Carthel said. “He’s been in the system (before this year) and he’s done a great job for us.”
Ribaudo said it hasn’t been hard to get his players refocused after last week’s disappointing loss.
“It’s not a problem; it’s WT,” he said. “These kids will bounce back.”