By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Eastern New Mexico and West Texas A&M battle each football season for the Wagon Wheel. The traveling trophy, a large wagon wheel, is placed atop a hill adjacent to the field at either Greyhound Stadium or Kimbrough Stadium.
When the Greyhounds win, as they’ve done 11 times in the rivalry’s 23 games, the ENMU offensive line carries the trophy down the hill.
Karlton Graves hasn’t experienced that tradition during his first two Wagon Wheel games. But he already knows it beats the alternative.
“The worst feeling is watching them run up that hill,” Graves said of West Texas, which hosts ENMU in today’s 5 p.m (MDT) contest at Kimbrough. “Knowing we missed that opportunity, it’s just a sick feeling in your stomach. You want to go in the locker room, but the coaches make us watch them.”
The fans, meanwhile, will be watching potent offenses on display. If the law of averages holds true, the Hounds (2-4, 0-2 Lone Star Conference South) and Buffaloes (1-5, 0-2) should combine for 62 points and around 950 yards of offense and fight for a win each desperately needs.
“We know this is a big game,” said Greyhounds coach Mark Ribaudo, who has had assistant coaching stints with both teams. “We respect everybody, especially WT. We know what the rivalry means to our school and our community.”
Despite the Buffaloes’ record, Ribaudo is quick to note those losses all came against Top 25 teams.
“We’ve been watching film,” Graves said. “Their defense is incredibly fast and incredibly physical. We are not by any means underestimating this defense. They can play.”
Attempts to contact WT coach Don Carthel, also a former Greyhounds coach, were unsuccessful.
Both teams employ the spread offense — WT for seven years, Eastern for two. But the numbers would imply the Greyhounds have been catching up quickly, as sophomore quarterback J.J. Harp has 3,000 yards passing and senior Jesse Poku leads Division II with 9.7 catches and 135 receiving yards per game.
After a 49-47 win over ENMU that saw the Hounds run 121 plays and break numerous offensive records, Southeastern Oklahoma coach Ray Richards mused a Buffs-Hounds game might take five hours to play.
Ribaudo laughed when given that scenario, but said the Hounds have to finish no matter how long the game takes.
“We’ve been trying to train like that all year,” said Ribaudo, who’s been involved in 17 Wagon Wheel games. “We’ve been in it in the fourth, but being in it and executing are two different things.”
ENMU (2-4) at
West Texas A&M (1-5)
5 p.m. (MDT) today,
Kimbrough Stadium, Canyon, Texas
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9, KGNC-AM 710
Coaches: ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, fifth season, 16-33. WT, Don Carthel, fifth season, 45-12 (91-58-1 career).
Last week: The Greyhounds absorbed a 47-23 loss to Angelo State, now ranked No. 23 in Division II, while the Buffaloes dropped a 31-19 decision to then-No. 23 Midwestern State.
Last meeting: 2008, WT won 51-27. The Buffs have won the last four in the series and lead overall 12-11.
WT players to watch: QB Taylor Harris, WR Stephen Burton, DB Tie Evans, LB Curtis Jefferson.
Notes: Sophomore quarterback J.J. Harp, at 3,000 yards passing, is 684 yards from Kevin Kott’s 1984 team record, while senior receiver Jesse Poku needs 27 receptions to tie Steve Jackson’s single-season mark, set in 1983.
Quotable: “It’s the craziest thing. I’ve been in 17 of them. You have to show up and see what happens.” — Ribaudo, on the Wagon Wheel game.