By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
EASTERN NEW MEXICO COACH Mark Ribaudo is unsure if the Greyhounds would have been ready to play unbeaten West Texas A&M in the second or third week of the season.
Instead, the teams meet this week for the Lone Star Conference South Division lead in the Buffaloes’ homecoming game at Canyon, Texas. And while ENMU (4-2, 2-0 South) knows it has its work cut out against the surprising Buffs (6-0, 2-0), the Hounds feel better going in with the momentum of a four-game winning streak.
“We’re getting better every week, and that makes us feel good,” Ribaudo said. “We’re showing progress in our play — offense, defense, blocking and tackling, everything.
“The wins? You bet that’s important, too. I’m happy as heck that we’re on a four-game (winning) streak, and I’m super-happy that these kids keep striving to get better.”
ENMU IS NO. 8 IN this week’s NCAA Division II Southwest Region rankings. WT leads the poll, and is the only one of the 12 rated teams which is still unbeaten.
Four other LSC teams made the poll — Texas A&M-Kingsville (4), Tarleton State (5), Angelo State (10) and Southeastern Oklahoma (11). Central Arkansas (4-2), ENMU’s season-opening opponent, is sixth in the Southeast Region rankings.
WT also moved up six spots to 16th in this week’s NCAA Division II top-25 national poll. Other ranked LSC teams are Kingsville (up four spots to eighth) and Tarleton (down six spots to 24th after its 24-21 loss Saturday at Kingsville).
ENMU JUNIOR RB Fide Davalos has just 37 carries through six games, and caught his first pass of the season in Saturday’s 38-14 win over previously unbeaten Angelo State at Blackwater Draw. But he’s averaging 4.5 yards a tote, and has made a noticeable impact on the ENMU offense with his blocking on the perimeter.
“He’s probably our best blocker, and when he does get the ball he’s really effective,” Ribaudo said. “He’s running like we anticipated and hoped that he would.”
THE HOUNDS GAVE UP two first-quarter touchdowns against previously unbeaten Angelo on Saturday before shutting out the Rams on just 77 total yards over the final three quarters.
Junior linebacker Tim Ojeda said ENMU’s ability to control the ball has been a factor in the team’s improved defensive play.
“That’s one of the biggest things,” he said. “As long as we give our offense the ball, they’ll be able to move up. Mike’s (quarterback Michael Benton) a real threat and D-Hunt (senior wide receiver Derrick Hunter) is always a threat.”
Quick hits — ENMU and WT haven’t played in a game this meaningful since 1998, when the Buffs won 13-10 at Canyon. Both teams were in contention for a Division II playoff berth at the time. Neither reached the playoffs. … WT, which routed New Mexico Highlands 90-21 in its opener, didn’t score its 90th point last season until the fifth game. … The Buffs snapped a six-game losing streak against Midwestern last week, rallying from a 31-13 second-quarter deficit to beat the Indians 47-44.