By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
Dealing with the elements, not to mention the fourth-ranked team in NCAA Division II, Eastern New Mexico University came pretty close to pulling off what would have been a stunning upset Saturday night.
In the end, the Greyhounds didn’t have enough firepower to beat West Texas A&M, but they came away from their 51-27 Lone Star Conference South Division loss to the rival Buffaloes at Greyhound Stadium feeling pretty good about themselves.
“We had plenty of time to make something happen,” said senior linebacker Allen Perez, who had two of ENMU’s three interceptions against Buffs quarterback Keith Null and helped lead the charge back from a 37-0 deficit. “We just had to execute a little better.”
Three times the game was delayed for lightning during the second and third quarters, at least twice with the Hounds (1-6, 0-3 South) trying to establish momentum.
Perez, who said he had dreamed the night before of scoring off an interception, had two picks in the span of 90 seconds, the first one setting up a score and the second returned by him for a touchdown. That capped a three-TD burst in less than three minutes, pulling ENMU to 37-20.
“I was just doing my reads,” said Perez, a 26-year-old who graduated from Roswell High in 2000 and decided to walk on at ENMU last year. “The right call was made. To tell the truth, it was just like a Little League game — you didn’t know what happened until after you caught the ball.”
The first delay occurred at that point, lasting about 20 minutes. Then ENMU scored again early in the third quarter to make it 37-27 and forced a short punt, taking over at the WT 34, when the second delay came.
After play resumed, an unsportsmanlike penalty against WT (7-0, 3-0) helped ENMU reach the 13. But the Buffs held, then blocked a field goal, and the Hounds never regained momentum.
WT coach Don Carthel said the wind was more of a factor than the delays, noting that all but two of the 11 touchdowns were scored with the wind.
“I thought both teams handled it pretty good,” he said of the delays. “It was a factor, but I didn’t think it was that big.
“Whichever team had the wind at their back made a big difference.”
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo was impressed his team, wind or no wind, could dig down and come back from such a large deficit.
“Our kids hung in there,” he said. “A lot of people would’ve packed it in, but I was super-proud of how the kids fought back.”
Ribaudo’s take was that the wind and the delays were both factors. Still, he saw the game as a positive step.
“By the end, sheer talent had taken over,” he said. “We had a little window (to come back all the way), but we just couldn’t finish them off.
“That’s a good football team we played. I think we took a step forward with our passing game. Our offensive line protected (freshman quarterback J.J. Harp) even better than they did the week before.”
Now the Hounds, with three more difficult South games coming up, hope to build on the effort.
“I think we did a lot of things in terms of growing up,” Ribaudo said, “and I think we made progress in terms of X’s and O’s on the field, too.”