By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
BLACKWATER DRAW — After Saturday’s 21-0 Lone Star Conference South Division-opening victory over Eastern New Mexico University at Blackwater Draw, the Abilene Christian football team is heading for relatively new territory.
For ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo and his squad, it’s back to the drawing board.
At 4-0, the Wildcats, who moved up two notches to 23rd in this week’s NCAA Division II rankings, are off to their best start since 1983. If they beat Northeastern State this week, it would be the program’s first 5-0 start since 1969.
Abilene Christian’s defense has posted consecutive shutouts for the first time in 30 years and has a streak of 10 consecutive scoreless quarters.
While the Wildcats dominated in every aspect, second-year coach Chris Thomsen said Saturday’s win wasn’t as easy as it might have looked.
“Coach Ribaudo and his staff will give us a war every time we come out here,” Thomsen said. “There weren’t any big surprises. The game could’ve turned on any number of plays.”
Quarterback Billy Malone directed an offense which compiled 341 yards and didn’t turn the ball over — the Wildcats have only two turnovers in four games.
“Our quarterback and receivers did a good job,” Thomsen said. “And the offensive line did a good job of blitz pick-up against Eastern.”
On the other side, ENMU (1-3) got occasional big plays from running backs Kyle Harris and Jason Walker, but little else. Junior quarterback Michael Benton, who entered the game averaging more than 160 yards rushing this season, was sacked twice and finished with minus-4 yards on 15 carries.
A couple of times, penalties nullified first-down runs by Benton and made it even tougher for the Hounds to get anything established.
“Our offense really never got on track,” Ribaudo said. “I thought we had glimmers with our option, but we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Like Central Oklahoma’s Ryan O’Hara the week before, Malone was able to find receivers in key situations and keep the sticks moving for the Wildcats.
“I thought our run defense was a bright spot, but we need to play a little better contain,” Ribaudo said of the pass defense. “People are using max (pass) protection against us because of our blitzes. We need to lock on the ball a little better.”