By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
BLACKWATER DRAW — Name a college, take away their most prolific passer in school history, give them a deficit and it’s probably a disaster.
It very well could have been for Eastern New Mexico, had Wes Wood not been waiting in the wings.
Wood, a 6-foot-1, 155-pound freshman gunslinger, led the Greyhounds from their own 6 to the end zone in 1:20, and senior linebacker Texavier Henry sealed matters with a late interception in ENMU’s season-ending 35-30 win over Incarnate Word Saturday night.
Nearly a year removed from a 64-touchdown pass season and a state championship at Muleshoe, separated from Greyhound Stadium by 30 miles of farm road, Wood came in after J.J. Harp was knocked out with a head injury midway through the fourth quarter and completed an 8-yard go-ahead scoring toss to Darian Dale with 1:53 to play.
“To be really honest, I was pretty nervous,” Wood said. “After that first big play (sophomore) Matt Handler caught, that took the pressure off a little bit.”
Despite all the things that had gone wrong — five turnovers, including an interception by Wood on his first series, and the injury to Harp — the Greyhounds felt confident with the ball and a 30-29 deficit and 3:23 to play.
“We do that exact same drill,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “We’ve got to score (on a two-minute drill) with one timeout. We practice that every Thursday.
“Ball on the 6, no problem.”
Handler caught a 51-yard pass on a broken play on the second play of the drive, then Wood completed a 29-yard sideline pass to J.T. Thompson. Freshman Stefan Mills rushed the ball to the Incarnate Word 7 and Wood found Dale two plays later in the right corner of the south end zone — often referred to as the “Muleshoe end zone.”
Wood engineered the drive while filling in for Harp, a Harlon Hill Award-nominated sophomore who pushed his school-record 2009 passing total to 4,373 yards and threw touchdowns of 28, 29, 30 and 31 of the season to set another school record.
“That is one of the hardest things in sports, to come in ice cold and be asked not only to be good, but win the game,” Ribaudo said. “In this offense, the quarterback’s everything. You make the right decisions, or we lose.”
Late heroics were needed to claim a win Henry felt should have been easier over the Cardinals, in their first year as a football program. But he’ll take the end result, as he picked off Thomas Specia on the right sideline with 23 seconds left.
“That was the highlight of my senior year, getting the turnover to end the game,” Henry said. “I don’t think I’d want it any other way.”
The Greyhounds, who went 0-6 in Lone Star Conference South play this season, could see their fortunes change quickly with a move to the North Division next season. South teams went 18-2 against North teams in crossover games, and the LSC South had four nationally ranked teams.
“Nothing’s for sure, because there are good teams in the North,” Ribaudo said. “But it will be good to get away from that murderer’s row in the South.”
Henry doesn’t think a worst-to-first is out of the question for the Greyhounds.
“I don’t see anybody stopping them,” Henry said. “We were in every game this season. I wish I could be a part of it next year.”