By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
If Northeastern State has an advantage against Eastern New Mexico University in today’s game in Tahlequah, Okla., it’s that the Redmen have already played this season.
While ENMU opens its campaign with a rare Thursday night game, Northeastern lost at Arkansas Tech 33-32 in its opener last week.
Second-year ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said his team is anxious to play.
“We’re about as prepared as a team could be at this time,” he said. “We’re ready to play a game for sure.”
Ribaudo said the Redmen should be a formidable challenge.
“They scored 32 points on a good Gulf South (Conference) team,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s a tough place to go play.
“Arkansas Tech is a solid, solid program. (Northeastern) got its first-game jitters out, and they’re going to be a better team this week.”
Since longtime assistant coach John Horner took over in 2003, Northeastern has struggled, winning just five games.
Horner said there were some differences in philosophy on the staff when the change was made, and it’s taking a while to implement his system.
“It was on the way down when I took over,” said Horner, who came to Northeastern in 1988. “My recruiting philosophy was to build a foundation with high school kids (as opposed to relying on junior college transfers).”
Northeastern dropped a heartbreaker last week when a celebration penalty on a potential tying score late in the game pushed the extra point attempt back 15 yards. Kicker Brett Sowers was wide left on the kick, his third miss of the night.
Horner took exception with that penalty, as well as several others in the game, but said the Redmen didn’t play as well as he’d hoped.
“We had some tough calls in that game, but that happens on the road,” he said. “Defensively, we didn’t play as well as I thought we would. They’d switched schemes (from the previous year) on offense, so we went in a little blind.”
Ribaudo and Horner were defensive coordinators at their respective schools before moving into the head coaching positions.
“It’s a change for both of us,” Horner said. “I’d never had to deal with offense before. Trying to implement your philosophy takes a little time.”
The Greyhounds open with their two longest road trips — they play at East Central next week — before getting five of their final eight games at home.
ENMU at Northeastern State
6 p.m. (MDT) today
At Tahlequah, Okla.
Records: ENMU 0-0, Northeastern State 0-1.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com.
Coaches: ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 2nd year; Northeastern State, John Horner, 4th year.
Last week: The Redmen opened the season with a 33-32 loss to Arkansas Tech at Russellville, Ark.
Top Northeastern State players: Erick Hatchett, 5-11, 185, Jr., TB; Joe Hogan, 6-3, 200, Jr., QB; Jarrett Byers, 6-0, 190, Jr., WR; Kevin Christian, 6-1, 240, Sr., LB.
Notes: Both coaches were assistants at their current schools long before becoming head coaches. Ribaudo is in his 10th year at ENMU, while Horner is in his 19th at Northeastern State. … An excessive celebration penalty with 2:20 left cost the Redmen on a potential game-tying extra point last week. The ball was moved back 15 yards, and Brett Sowers’ kick went wide left. … This is the teams’ fourth meeting all-time, and the third in Tahlequah. The Greyhounds are 3-0 against the Redmen, winning the most recent clash 24-10 at Northeastern three years ago. … ENMU is 34-32 all-time in season openers. The Hounds had won seven openers in a row before losing to Central Arkansas in each of the past two seasons.
Quotable: “We’ve opened with (Arkansas) Tech the last four years. It’s tough to come back from an opening-game loss. We’ve just got to step up and play.” — Horner.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner