CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Tony Valenzuela looks to make a block for ENMU kick returner Arvin Jackson during the Greyhounds’ game against Central Oklahoma two weeks ago.
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Mark Ribaudo has no illusions about playing Abilene Christian.
The Eastern New Mexico University football coach acknowledges the Greyhounds will have to play their best game of the season today to hang with the fourth-ranked Wildcats in a 2 p.m. Lone Star Conference crossover tilt at Blackwater Draw.
“We have to play almost a perfect game against these guys,” Ribaudo said. “A lot of things have to go our way, and some things have to go bad for them.”
ACU coach Chris Thomsen, though, remembers last year’s matchup at Abilene, a game in which the heavily-favored Wildcats trailed twice by 11 points in the third quarter and were still down 33-30 with six minutes left before rallying to win 44-33.
“I expect a classic battle,” Thomsen said. “We’ve always had tough games against Eastern. We’ve got a lot of guys (back) from last year’s team who remember that.”
The Wildcats (7-0) are one of four LSC South teams which have been ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division II most of the season. They already own wins over two of them, Midwestern State and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“They’ve got a great defense, and a great offense too,” ENMU sophomore wide receiver Chase Kyser said. “They return their front seven (on defense); it just shows how good they are.”
While ACU thumped Incarnate Word 54-17 last week, the Hounds suffered a costly 22-19 North Division loss at East Central, dropping two games behind first-place Northeastern State in the loss column.
“It was a disappointing loss, but we’re not going to dwell on it,” said Kyser, who had six catches for 102 yards against the Tigers. “We still have a chance to win out and get a share of the (North) championship.”
It seems a lot to think the Hounds can bounce back against what seems to be the best team in the LSC. On the other hand, the Hounds (3-4) have been good at home this year, winning three of four.
“We’re going to need that (advantage) this week,” Ribaudo said. “We’re going to need all the ‘mojo’ we can get.”
Thomsen, whose recent squads have featured current NFL players such as strong safety Danieal Manning and wide receiver Johnny Knox of the Chicago Bears and running back Bernard Scott of the Cincinnati Bengals, believes this team may have more chemistry than overwhelming talent.
“It’s kind of a two-fold deal,” Thomsen said. “We’ve got to focus on winning the Lone Star Conference, but when we get to the playoffs, especially with the experience we’ve gained, do what it’s going to take to win a national championship.”
Ribaudo said Thomsen is selling his team’s physical talent short, noting the Wildcats have gone to more spread formations on offense this season to utilize their skills.
“I think this is his best team, because of the things he’s doing,” Ribaudo said. “We’ve just got to find a way to put together a game plan that can help put our kids in an advantageous position.”