By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
BLACKWATER DRAW — It was soon apparent in Saturday’s Lone Star Conference crossover game against fourth-ranked Abilene Christian that the Eastern New Mexico University football team was in a bit over its head.
The Wildcats, with designs on a possible national championship, elected to take a brisk west wind blowing an estimated 35-40 mph in the first quarter. Their kicking game kept ENMU backed up, and the Greyhounds fell behind 27-0 en route to a 53-14 setback.
Not that they probably needed it, but the Wildcats (8-0) took full advantage of the conditions. Kicker Spencer Covey booted six kickoffs out of the end zone in the opening stanza — the last one came after ACU scored with one second left.
“We just couldn’t get out of the first quarter,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo quipped.
ENMU picked up two first downs on its first three plays from scrimmage, then stalled and followed that with four consecutive three-and-outs.
“I think our guys just settled in,” ACU coach Chris Thomsen said of his defense. “You’ve got to get used to Eastern’s (fast) tempo. You can’t recreate that in practice.”
Praise for Wood: Thomsen said his quarterback, sophomore Mitchell Gale, went through some ups-and-downs last year. He’s sees similarities with Gale and ENMU sophomore Wes Wood, who had a couple of starts late last season before taking over the offense this year.
Wood struggled against the athletic Wildcats, going just 11-of-31 for 126 yards.
“Mitchell was in a similar situation last year to what Wood is right now,” Thomsen said. “You just have to get that experience.
“I think Wood will be a really good quarterback. He impresses me with his competitiveness and his heart.”
Three games remain: Northeastern State beat Central Oklahoma 39-28 on Saturday to improve to 4-0 in the LSC North. ENMU (3-5, 2-2 North) needs wins over Southeastern Oklahoma at home this week and at Northeastern State on Nov. 6, plus a loss by the RiverHawks at East Central this week, to have a chance to share the title.
Meantime, ECU (3-5, 3-1) is in second place after edging Southeastern 20-19 on Saturday at Durant, Okla., behind interception returns for touchdowns from Markell Walker and Dontae Smith.
ENMU closes its season with a crossover on Nov. 13 at fast-improving Tarleton State. The Hounds need to win out to post their first winning season since 2004.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for,” Ribaudo said.