CNJ staff photo: Rick White ENMU senior linebacker Nathan Uland returns a fumble during the first-quarter of Saturday’s game against Southeastern Oklahoma. The Hounds forced three turnovers in a 55-20 win.
BLACKWATER DRAW — With any success on the road, the Eastern New Mexico University football team would be playing for an outright Lone Star Conference North Division title this week.
Instead, the Greyhounds (4-5, 3-2 North) hope to salvage a three-way share of the crown when they face Northeastern State (5-4, 4-1) in a 1 p.m. (MDT) kickoff on Saturday at Tahlequah, Okla.
In addition to beating the RiverHawks, the Hounds need Texas A&M-Commerce (3-6, 2-3) to win at home over co-leader East Central (4-5, 4-1), which handed NSU its first division loss 48-21 on Saturday.
ENMU finished its home slate at 4-2 after Saturday’s 55-20 blitz of Southeastern Oklahoma at Blackwater Draw, but the Hounds are winless in three tries away from home. Included are disappointing division setbacks to Southwestern Oklahoma (21-10) and East Central (22-19), plus an LSC crossover loss at Angelo State (41-38).
“I don’t know what the difference is,” said junior wide receiver Carl Bouldin, who caught five passes for 138 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. “We just didn’t execute (in the road games).”
Senior cornerback Rodney Mitchell said the team’s preparation in practice this week will be a key.
“It’s going to be big,” he said. “It’ll be the longest road trip we’ve been on and, honestly, we haven’t been that good on the road.
“Monday through Friday, we’re going to have to be leaders (in practice).”
Slight letdown?: Down 41-13 at halftime, the Savage Storm threatened to make a game of it when play resumed. They marched the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, then recovered an onside kick before the Hounds’ defense managed to turn them back on two drives into scoring range.
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said a letdown after such a dominating first half might have been anticipated.
“It’s really hard to come back out and keep your intensity,” he said. “They drove the ball right away and stuck it down our throat.
“But I was proud of the kids to come back off a tough loss (to Abilene Christian the previous week).”
Mitchell’s drought ends: After finishing seventh in interceptions last season in NCAA Division II with seven, Mitchell finally got his first of the year in Saturday’s win.
The Hounds marched the opening kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, but the Savage Storm put together a 15-play drive and were in scoring range when quarterback Logan Turner’s pass into the right flat sailed on him and Mitchell picked it off, bringing it back 76 yards for a 14-0 lead.
“That was the key break in the first half,” Southeastern coach Ray Richards said.
Mitchell said teams haven’t thrown toward him as much this year, but he admitted he was getting a bit frustrated.
“Honestly, when they don’t throw to my side, it’s like, ‘What am I out here for?’” Mitchell said. “I take it as a compliment, but sometimes you get a little bored.”
LSC North notes: Southeastern’s Baylen Laury had 118 yards rushing on Saturday, leaving him at 999 for the season. … East Central posted two defensive touchdowns against Northeastern, giving the Tigers more defensive TDs (six) than rushing scores (five) this year. ECU also had two safeties against the RiverHawks. … Central Oklahoma lost at home to Texas A&M-Commerce 31-30 on Saturday, the Bronchos’ third one-point loss of the season