Eastern New Mexico University’s football team has run into a buzzsaw this month, to say the least, and it ends today with a 2 p.m. Lone Star Conference kickoff against eighth-ranked Midwestern State at Greyhound Stadium.
ENMU (2-7, 1-4 LSC) has faced Abilene Christian, Northwest Missouri State and West Texas A&M in its last three games. All are still ranked in the NCAA Division II top 20, and all except WT have been in the top 10 this season.
Still, the Mustangs (7-0, 6-0), coming off a stunning 70-28 thrashing of then-No. 9 Abilene Christian, present perhaps the biggest challenge yet.
“I haven’t seen an offense like this (in the LSC) since (Texas A&M-) Kingsville in ’95,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “I think all of their offensive linemen that year went pro.
“This offensive line that Midwestern has, and the one from Kingsville in ’95, are the best I’ve seen.”
The Mustangs are averaging 576.7 yards and nearly 54 points per game. They don’t have a back averaging 90 yards a game, but have four with at least 60 yards per contest.
Junior quarterback Brandon Kelsey is completing 71 percent of his passing (96-of-136), with 14 players having at least two catches.
Kelsey came in as a running back. He was MSU’s backup quarterback last year, but hadn’t played the position regularly since high school.
“We knew we had a good offensive line, and we’ve got a good stable of running backs and quality receivers,” Mustangs coach Bill Maskill said. “We just weren’t sure about what was going to happen at quarterback.”
Somewhat lost in the shuffle is the team’s defense, which is allowing nearly 350 yards per game but less than 20 points on average.
“We’re just kind of a no-name defense,” Maskill said. “We don’t have any stars, just a lot of good football players.”
It’s an understatement to say today’s game is a tall order for the Hounds, but they keep plucking away.
“We’ve had pretty good practices this week,” said senior wide receiver Darian Dale, who this season has set school career records for receptions and yards receiving. “Nobody’s (dropping) their heads. We’ve had a tough schedule, but it’s been fun.”
Dale is optimistic the Hounds will play well today and can finish the season on a positive note.
“They’re good, no doubt; they beat ACU by 40 points,” he said. “But every team has their flaws.
“We have a good chance this last stretch. We’re going to give it our all.”
Ribaudo said he has no doubt the Hounds will come to play in their final three games.
“This is one of the most resilient teams I’ve had, just tough,” he said. “They’re still fighting and playing hard. We’re learning some good lessons and I’m proud of everybody.”
Midwestern State (7-0, 6-0 Lone
Star Conference) at ENMU (2-6, 1-4)
2 p.m. today at Blackwater Draw
• Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
• Coaches: Midwestern State, Bill Maskill, 10th year, 76-31; ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 7th year, 24-49.
• Last meeting: 2010, the Mustangs compiled 526 total yards and took advantage of six ENMU turnovers, including five interceptions, in a 44-17 win over the Greyhounds at Blackwater Draw.
• Last week: The Hounds lost at West Texas A&M 52-21. The Mustangs pounded then-ninth-ranked Abilene Christian 70-28 at Wichita Falls, Texas, moving from No. 12 to No. 8 in the NCAA Division II rankings.
• MSU players to watch: Brandon Kelsey, 6-2, 203, Jr., QB; Amini Silatolu, 6-3, 320, Sr., T; Jimmy Pipkin, 6-0, 195, Fr, RB; Kevin Birdow, 6-2, 250, Sr., DE; Ty Duncan, 6-2, 210, Sr., LB.
• Notes: MSU has won the last nine meetings with ENMU and leads the all-time series 12-4. The Hounds’ last win came on Sept. 15, 2001, a 36-33 decision at Wichita Falls, Texas. … The Mustangs had 12 possessions last week against ACU, scoring on the first five and the last five. … Despite Maskill’s record, this will probably be the Mustangs’ first season with less than three losses under his tutelage. His worst year at the school was 2005 (6-4); his best was 2006 (10-3). His previous head coaching stint was at Southeast Missouri State (1988-89), where he went 6-4 and 7-4. … This is the best start in MSU history. The Mustangs can match the longest winning streak in school history (eight) with a victory today. … Pipkin, ineligible last year, is actually the third-string RB for the Mustangs but leads the LSC with an average of 89.2 yards rushing per game. Midwestern is deep at most positions and has been able to stay relatively injury-free. … Three times this season MSU has scored four touchdowns in a quarter. … The Mustangs have outscored their opponents 375-130, including 132-19 in the second stanza.
• Quotable: “We just try to do what we do. Every week’s a new game, and we’ve got to get ready to play again.” — Maskill, on his team’s dominating season so far.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner