By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
With four of their six rivals in the Lone Star Conference South Division ranked in the top 25 nationally, virtually every game is a major challenge for the Eastern New Mexico University football team.
That’s what helps make last week’s 38-35 loss at Texas A&M-Kingsville a little hard to swallow.
The Greyhounds entered South play 4-0, but have dropped five in a row in the division. They will finish their South slate today with a 2 p.m. game against Midwestern State (7-2, 2-2 South) at Blackwater Draw.
The Mustangs are ranked 21st this week in the American Football Coaches Association poll.
“It’s a new week, a new opponent,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “Our kids are pretty resilient. It’s an opportunity to knock off a nationally ranked team.”
Midwestern, though, will certainly provide a stern challenge. The Mustangs defeated Kingsville 73-6 two weeks ago, and are among the top teams in the LSC in both offense and defense.
“They look pretty good,” senior defensive end Kyle Wilson said. “But if we play well on defense, I think we can beat them.”
Ribaudo and Wilson both said the Hounds simply didn’t play well on defense against Kingsville, a team which came in struggling with a 1-7 record. They certainly did enough on offense.
“We should’ve had that game,” said Wilson, who currently is tied for third in the conference in sacks with six. “We just made too many mistakes on defense.
“We pretty much hurt ourselves and let them off the hook.”
Mustangs coach Bill Maskill, whose team probably has to beat ENMU and 19th-ranked Abilene Christian next week at home to earn a playoff berth, said his team has to focus on the task at hand.
“Right now, we’re on the outside looking in,” he said of the playoff race. “It’s important from our perspective that we’re ready to go.
“We can’t control the polls, or other teams. What we can control is our attitude and effort, and what we do on a weekly basis.”
He said preparing for the Hounds is always a challenge because of their style.
“They’ve got some tools to work with, no question about it,” Maskill said.
Quarterbacks Michael Benton of ENMU and Daniel Polk of Midwestern are ranked second and sixth, respectively, in rushing in the LSC.
Polk has also become a competent passer for the Mustangs, throwing for more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
“We’ve got to try to find a way to handle Polk,” Ribaudo said. “He’s a triple threat. He can run the ball, he can scramble so you have to be careful with the kind of pressure you show him, and he can beat you with his arm.”
Wilson said the Hounds continue to put out maximum effort every week.
“We still practice hard and watch a lot of film,” he said. “Hopefully, we can carry our skills from the practice field to the game this week.”