By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Eastern New Mexico University and Central Oklahoma each got what it needed last week — a victory.
Now they’ll see who can build on it when the teams collide in ENMU’s 6 p.m. home opener today in a Lone Star Conference crossover game at Blackwater Draw.
“I think the talent level in this league (LSC) is really close,” fourth-year Central Oklahoma coach Chuck Langston said. “A lot of games are going to come down to the end.”
The Bronchos (1-2) have been in that position in every game so far, including two which went into overtime. Central Oklahoma outlasted Angelo State 30-24 at home last Saturday when Matt Gates returned an interception 85 yards for a score in the third OT period.
The Hounds (1-1) bounced back from a 35-point, season-opening loss with a solid all-around game in beating East Central 24-15 at Ada, Okla. ENMU’s defense forced five turnovers, including a 30-yard interception return for a score by defensive end Randall Hutchinson and a fumble recovery in the end zone to prevent a touchdown by linebacker Tony Johnson.
Meantime, the offense finished with 332 total yards, including 310 on the ground.
“We felt pretty good about the whole game,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “That was a good opponent we played, and on the road.”
Central Oklahoma went just 3-7 last year, but has traditionally been strong in the LSC’s North Division. Although the teams have met just twice in the last 10 years, Ribaudo said it’s been a competitive series.
“We’ve had some real battles over the years,” he said. “They’re just a good, solid program. They had a rocky start (this season), but so did we.
“They have a good running game, and I think they’ll be the best defense we’ve seen to date.”
Langston, an offensive lineman in his college days at the University of Oklahoma, said he’s seen a lot of positives despite his team’s faltering start.
“I’m encouraged with our players,” he said. “We’ve been involved in three really close games. I like our team and the attitude of our team. Our kids have continued to fight.”
He expects the Hounds to be just as feisty.
“They went on the road last week and beat East Central pretty soundly,” Langston said. “Their kids play extremely hard and they’re well-coached.”