By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
MARK RIBAUDO HAS seen quite a few Wagon Wheel games between Eastern New Mexico University and West Texas A&M — from both sides, as a WT assistant in the mid-1990s and as an assistant and, now, head coach at ENMU.
Nothing tops Saturday’s 52-51 overtime battle at Canyon, Texas, even though Ribaudo’s Greyhounds came out on the short end against the unbeaten Buffaloes.
“It was one of the all-time classics,” Ribaudo said. “I’ve never been in a Wagon Wheel game where the effort was any greater.
“It was an incredible effort. I don’t think our kids could’ve played any better.”
ENMU (4-3, 2-1 Lone Star Conference South), which was on a four-game winning streak coming in, had a chance for the in regulation but couldn’t get a timeout in time to line up for what would have been about a 36-yard field goal try — well within kicker Lee Price’s range.
Then, going for the win in OT, a 2-point conversion off a fake kick resulted in a pass interception to give WT (7-0, 3-0) sole possession of the division lead.
THE CROWD OF 22,993 was a record for WT’s Kimbrough Stadium and for an LSC game. It is believed to be a record for an NCAA Division II game played at an on-campus facility.
While the Hounds broke the school record for rushing yards with 475 in the game, their 622 total yards fell a bit short of the single-game total offense mark of 686, set in 1988 against Fort Lewis.
SENIOR CORNERBACK COREY White, the holder and passer on the ill-fated 2PAT try in overtime, said the team practiced during the week with loud music playing to prepare for crowd noise.
“This is not going to hold us down,” he said of the loss. “We’ve got Tarleton (State) coming in this week, and we’re just going to keep moving forward.”
The Texans (5-1, 1-1) rebounded from a 24-21 loss at Texas A&M-Kingsville two weeks ago to blister Midwestern State 37-7 on Saturday. Tarleton is ranked fourth in the region and 22nd in the NCAA Division II national poll.
WT COACH DON CARTHEL said the Buffs dodged a few bullets in improving to 7-0 for the first time in 11 years.
“I give the Greyhounds a lot of credit,” Carthel, who coached ENMU from 1985-91, told the Amarillo Globe. “They could’ve won this game. We dodged some bullets all game long. Our defense couldn’t stop them.”
DESPITE THE WIN, THE Buffs fell from first to second in the Southwest Region rankings, behind previously No. 2 Washburn. The Ichabods won last week over then-No. 4 Northwest Missouri.
WT moved up six spots in the NCAA Division II poll, though, going from 16th to 10th.
Meantime, the Hounds lost only one notch in the region poll, falling from eighth to ninth. That means they remain in position to earn their first postseason berth (top six) since switching to NCAA Division II in the mid-1980s — although it’s likely they’ll need to win out the final four weeks to do so.