Coaches Mark Ribaudo of Eastern New Mexico University and Don Carthel of West Texas A&M have seen the “Wagon Wheel” rivalry from both sides.
Ribaudo spent five seasons as an assistant at WT and has now been at ENMU for 15 years, the last seven as head coach. Carthel played for and graduated from ENMU and was the Greyhounds’ head coach for seven seasons.
The border rivals clash for the first time since 2009 in a 5 p.m. (MDT) kickoff today at Canyon, Texas.
“It’s always special to me,” said Ribaudo, adding that he and Carthel visit by phone every so often during the season. “I just love the passion of the game. There’s usually a big crowd, and both schools are into it.
“I’ve experienced the sheer joy and the unbelievable agony of it.”
Carthel said it’s special for him as well.
“It’s my alma mater and I coached there,” he said of ENMU. “I’ve got a lot of friends there, so I definitely want us to play well. I respect coach Ribaudo and his staff.”
Lately, the rivalry has gone WT’s way. The Buffs have won the last five meetings, although there have been some close ones.
WT (4-2, 4-1 LSC), ranked 24th in NCAA Division II, had to overcome a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit and stop a 2-point conversion in overtime to preserve a 52-51 win at Canyon in 2005. The following year, the Buffs erased a 14-0 halftime deficit to win 21-14 at Blackwater Draw.
Three years ago, in a game delayed twice for lightning, the Hounds cut a 37-0 deficit to 37-27 before WT pulled away to win 51-27.
Carthel said the Hounds (2-5, 1-3) are a dangerous team.
“They’re capable of beating anybody,” he said. “They went on the road and beat Angelo State. They’re certainly capable of beating us.”
Both of WT’s losses were to teams currently in the top 10 in Division II — Colorado State-Pueblo in the season opener (26-24) and, last week, Abilene Christian (28-18). The latter is a stark contrast from the WT-ACU playoff game in 2008, won by the Wildcats 93-68.
“It was two really good defenses on the field,” Carthel said. “It was a physical football game.”
Meantime, ENMU simply couldn’t keep up with No. 6 Northwest Missouri’s potent attack last week in a 65-20 loss.
“They just had a stellar offense,” ENMU junior outside linebacker Perron Sellers said of the Bearcats. “We thought they were going to come out running, but they surprised us with play-action passes.”
The Hounds have been potent at times on offense, but should face a stiff challenge against WT’s defense.
“They’ve got the best defensive line in the conference,” Ribaudo said. “One scout said to me recently, ‘They’d have the best defensive line in the Big 12.’ But I think we match up fairly well in some categories.”
The Buffs are the third of four consecutive ranked opponents for ENMU.
“It’s not getting any easier, but I know we can do it,” Sellers said. “We’re pretty banged up. We’ve just got to make sure everybody knows their job and we’ll be all right.
“We’re counting on some young dudes to step up.”
ENMU (2-5, 1-3 Lone Star Conference)
at West Texas A&M (4-2, 4-1)
5 p.m. (MDT) today at Canyon, Texas
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