o Abilene Christian has beaten the 19th-ranked and unbeaten Greyhounds four-straight times.
By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
Gary Gaines has had a tough time against most teams in his three-plus seasons as the Abilene Christian football coach.
But even though the Wildcats are 3-0 against ENMU in that time — and have won four in a row in the series overall — Gaines isn’t exactly licking his chops at the possibility of facing the Greyhounds again in Saturday’s 5 p.m. (MDT) Lone Star Conference South Division opener for both teams at ACU’s Shotwell Stadium.
“They’re impressive as always,” said Gaines, 11-23 overall at the school, as the Wildcats (1-2) prepare for the Hounds, who take a 4-0 record into this game for the third time in four seasons. “They’re really playing good football in all areas.
“(Junior quarterback Steven) Hinson’s picked up where (graduated QB Heath) Ridenour left off. Defensively, they’re just a big-play team.”
ENMU, ranked 19th in a pair of NCAA Division II polls this week, is well aware of its struggles against the Wildcats — including last year’s 20-19 loss on a 49-yard field goal as time expired.
“We need to go out and just play our game,” Eastern coach Bud Elliott said. “We need to concentrate on what we can do (against) our opponent more than who we’re playing.”
The Wildcats, playing their third consecutive home game, have a 46-7 win over Fort Lewis to go with losses to Central Arkansas and Tarleton State — both nationally ranked at the time. Last week, ACU had an open date.
“We didn’t get as much work done last week as we’d hoped because we had some guys banged up,” Gaines said. “It just kind of throws you a little bit.”
The Wildcats do have some big-play threats — notably senior quarterback Colby Freeman, a third-year starter for Gaines after transferring from Texas A&M.
“We need him to play well for us to be effective,” Gaines said.
After struggling past Adams State 18-17 on a late field goal in the opener, the Hounds have played a more dominating brand of football over the last three weeks. Elliott said he’s pleased with the defense and special teams, but noted the offense still has some things to smooth out.
“We made too many mistakes in the red zone (inside the opponents’ 20),” Elliott said of Saturday’s 32-2 drubbing of winless East Central at Blackwater Draw. “But we’re playing a little better each week offensively. I thought Steven (8 for 13 for 175 yards against the Tigers) threw the ball really well last week.”
ANOTOMY OF A LOSING STREAK
Abilene Christian has beaten Eastern New Mexico University four-straight years, including 20-19 last season.
o 1999 — The Wildcats spoiled the Greyhounds’ Homecoming at Blackwater Draw with a 31-28 win, handing ENMU its first loss in five games. The teams were tied 28-28 after three quarters, and the only points in the final stanza came on a 37-yard ACU field goal with just over 10 minutes left.
ACU finished the season 4-6. The loss may have cost ENMU (8-3) an NCAA Division II playoff berth.
o 2000 — ACU again ruined Homecoming festivities for the Hounds with a 23-21 win at Blackwater Draw. The Hounds led 14-6 early, but third-quarter touchdown passes from quarterback Aaron Birdwell to Rodney VanDuren for 60 yards and Adrian Rascon for 55 gave the Wildcats a nine-point lead and the win.
It was ACU’s only win of the season (1-9, 1-5). ENMU (6-4, 4-2) shared the Lone Star Conference South title with Angelo State.
“We’ll just have to quit scheduling ACU for Homecoming,” ENMU coach Bud Elliott quipped afterward.
o 2001 — Eric Polk rushed for 102 yards and three touchdowns, two in the first quarter to stake the Wildcats to a 14-0 lead they never relinquished in a 35-21 win at Abilene, Texas. ENMU, which again came in 4-0, committed four turnovers .
The Hounds finished 6-4 overall and again shared the South title with Angelo State. ACU finished 3-8 (2-4).
o 2002 — Once again, the Hounds were 4-0 coming in. ENMU took a 19-17 lead with 1 1/2 minutes left on a 28-yard touchdown pass from scrambling quarterback Heath Ridenour to Tyrell Boxton.
But the Wildcats blocked Joe Barnes’ PAT kick for the second time in the game, and it proved costly. Quarterback Colby Freeman was sacked on the first play following the kickoff, but escaped pressure and scrambled 32 yards to the ENMU 32 with four seconds left. Sophomore Eben Nelson kicked a 49-yard field goal into a stiff breeze as time expired to give the Wildcats a heart-stopping 20-19 win.
ENMU ended the season 8-3 (4-2) while the Wildcats went on to win six of their final seven games and finished 6-4 (5-1).
— Dave Wagner