By Dave Wagner
For the second week in a row, Eastern New Mexico University’s defense is facing a top-notch quarterback.
Southeastern Oklahoma’s Drew Beard, a Harlon Hill finalist last season as one of the top players in NCAA Division II football, leads the Savages into their season opener Saturday against ENMU in a Lone Star Conference crossover game at Durant, Okla.
The Greyhounds are coming off Saturday’s 38-31 loss to Central Arkansas at Blackwater Draw, in which they fell behind 21-0 before rallying in the second half to make a game of it.
Last season, his second as the starter for Southeastern, Beard completed 52 percent of his passes for 2,279 yards and a school-record 23 touchdown tosses. He also rushed for nearly 80 yards a game to lead the team.
“I think Southeastern’s quarterback is a lot like (former Texas A&M-Kingsville QB) Abel Gonzales,” ENMU coach Bud Elliott said. “He’s a good scrambler, and he throws the ball pretty well.”
Elliott said the Hounds will have to play better defensively than they did against Central Arkansas. After stopping the Bears each of the first three times it had the ball, ENMU gave up scores on six of their next eight possessions.
“Our defense is really going to have to crank it up,” Elliott said. “I didn’t feel like our defense played very well last week. We were just cautious the whole ballgame.”
Southeastern’s Keith Baxter said he’s cautiously optimistic about the season. The Savages have posted back-to-back 7-3 records and second-place finishes in the North Division.
“Coach Elliott’s team is always well-coached and plays hard,” said Baxter, an assistant at Southeastern for 12 seasons before taking over the head job in 2001. “Going into the first week, we don’t know our personality yet and you always have those first-game mistakes.”
Baxter said he sees similarities between Beard and ENMU senior quarterback Steven Hinson, the LSC South’s player of the week on offense after completing 18-of-34 passes for a career-best 271 yards and two touchdowns against Central Arkansas.
“They both can run the ball and they both can throw it,” Baxter said. “I think it’s going to be a fun game to watch.”