By Dave Wagner, Freedom New Mexico
On paper, it gets a little easier this week for the Eastern New Mexico University football team this week — but not much.
After facing the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in NCAA Division II in two of their previous three games, the Greyhounds take on No. 17 Tarleton State in a 1 p.m. (MDT) Lone Star Conference South Division clash today at Stephenville, Texas.
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said the main difference from unbeaten Abilene Christian, West Texas A&M and Tarleton is that the Texans (6-1, 1-1 South) employ more of a power style and rely a little less on speed.
“They’re typical Tarleton,” Ribaudo said. “They’re going to run the ball at you until you scoot everybody up, then they’ll try to throw it deep over you.”
The Texans absorbed a somewhat surprising 27-16 home loss to Texas A&M-Kingsville two weeks ago, but bounced back for a 37-16 win at then-No. 22 Midwestern State on Saturday. Tarleton led 13-10 at halftime before scoring three unanswered touchdowns when play resumed.
ENMU (1-6, 0-3) saw its losing streak reach five in a 51-27 loss to rival WT in last week’s annual Wagon Wheel game at Greyhound Stadium, but the Hounds can build on the fact that they cut a 37-0 deficit to 10 points early in the third quarter and had chances to get even closer.
“The road doesn’t get any easier, but it puts pressure on us each week to get better,” sophomore offensive tackle Karlton Graves said. “We saw our team come together last week in the Wagon Wheel game.
“Nobody stopped believing in our team. If we (always) played with the intensity we had in the Wagon Wheel game, I think our season would’ve gone differently for us.”
The Texans are hopeful of mounting a run to the Division II playoffs, but their work is cut out with games remaining against WT and Abilene Christian. That means they can’t afford a stumble this week.
“Their ranking is well-deserved,” Ribaudo said. “It’s hard (as a visiting team) to go down there and win.”
Ribaudo said the Hounds are looking to change things up a bit this week out of their spread offense, which has relied heavily to this point on a short passing game.
“We’ve got to run the ball more and better,” he said, “and we’ve got to be able to throw it deeper.”
ENMU at Tarleton State
When: 1 p.m. (MDT) today in a Lone Star Conference South Division game at Stephenville, Texas.
Records: ENMU 1-6 (0-3), Tarleton State 6-1 (1-1).
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com
Coaches: ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 4th year; Tarleton State, Sam McElroy, 4th year.
Last week: ENMU lost to rival and fourth-ranked West Texas A&M 51-27 at Blackwater Draw; Tarleton State earned its first South win, beating Midwestern State 37-16 at Wichita Falls, Texas.
Last meeting: 2007, the Texans beat ENMU 40-10.
Tarleton State players to watch: Roderick Smith, 5-8, 190, Jr., RB; Scott Grantham, 6-1, 215, So. QB; Devin Guinn, 5-10, 182, Jr. WR; Garrett Lindholm, 5-10, 190, Jr. PK; Jamaal Steamer, 6-2, 245, Jr. DE; Alonzo Horton, 6-3, 252, Jr., DE.
Notes: ENMU is 12-4 all-time against Tarleton, but the Texans have won the last four. The Greyhounds’ most recent victory came in 2000, a 34-27 decision at Blackwater Draw. … Ironically, all games in the series have taken place in October. … ENMU freshman QB J.J. Harp completed 26-of-49 passes for a season-best 214 yards against WT. He threw for two TDs with no interceptions. … At No. 17, Tarleton is one of three South teams currently ranked in the NCAA Division II top 25, along with unbeatens Abilene Christian (No. 3) and WT, who meet tonight in Canyon. … Lindholm has missed only one of 31 PAT tries this season for Tarleton, and is 10-of-13 on field goals. Steamer has 14 tackles for loss in seven games, including 4 1/2 sacks.
Quotable: “They’re going to try to beat us with their strength and size. Last year, they were the most physical team we played.” — ENMU sophomore offensive tackle Karlton Graves, on playing Tarleton State.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner