Will this be the year the Eastern New Mexico University football team breaks through to earn an NCAA Division II playoff berth?
The Greyhounds are about to get a good indication of where they stand.
Saturday’s 6 p.m. (MDT) matchup against Midwestern State in Wichita Falls, Texas, will go a long way toward determining the fate of both teams. ENMU, rated No. 21 this week in NCAA Division II, brings a 5-1 record into the contest (1-1 Lone Star Conference South Division) while MSU is 4-2 (1-1).
Both teams are on the bubble for one of four playoff berths from the South Central Region — ENMU is currently ranked fourth and Midwestern State fifth.
ENMU coach Bud Elliott said the Indians feature veteran lines on both sides of the ball and a quality quarterback in third-year starter Phillip Boggs, who transferred to MSU after spending a year as a walk-on at Arkansas.
“He’s not throwing as much as he did last year, but he has a high completion rate (58 percent with only one interception on 127 passes),” Elliott said. “And he’s hard to rush (four sacks this season).”
Second-year Indians coach Bill Maskill expects a tough, competitive game.
“Last year (a 28-14 MSU win at Blackwater Draw) was a hard-fought, tough game on both sides,” he said. “I look forward to the same kind of game this year.
“It’s very difficult in a week’s time to get ready for a Wishbone team (like Eastern). Last year we played a Wishbone team (Southern Arkansas) prior to playing Eastern, and I think that helped us.”
The Indians balance Boggs’ throwing ability with a potent running game led by sophomore tailback Jerrold Fuqua. His backup, Tremaine Forrest, leads the LSC in kickoff returns.
Elliott said the Indians can throw some dangerous athletes out on the field.
“Our play this last weekend (a 31-0 rout of Angelo State at home) has to be encouraging,” he said. “It’s an indication we’ve made pretty good progress.”
Maskill said he’d like to think the home field would be a benefit, although it hasn’t really helped either team in recent years.
“The big thing is both teams are good teams,” he said. “The team that’s successful will probably be the team that executes the best.”
The Hounds are relatively healthy going into the game, Elliott said, noting that senior defensive back Randy Johnson (torn MCL) should be available for the first time in four weeks. Of injuries against Angelo, wide receiver Derrick Hunter (back) should be available while safety-punt returner Rob Arnold (sprained ankle) is listed as questionable.