Sukora Cooper attempts to slip past Bobby Reed during Thursday’s Greyhound football practice at the Portales High School field. Freedom Newspapers photo by Kevin Wilson.
History is not on the side of the Eastern New Mexico University Greyhounds this week as they continue their quest for the program’s first playoff bid in nearly two decades.
The Hounds play at Texas A&M-Kingsville in a 6 p.m. (MST) start on Saturday.
Eastern (6-2, 2-2 Lone Star Conference South Division) has never won at Kingsville.
To make things tougher, the Javelinas (6-1, 3-0) are ranked fourth in Division II.
“They deserve to be there,” said veteran ENMU coach Bud Elliott, who will seek his 200th victory in 36 seasons as a college head coach in Saturday’s game.
Last year, the Hounds upended Kingsville 37-34 at home behind four touchdowns and a school record 294 yards rushing from senior quarterback Heath Ridenour and a dramatic 39-yard, last-minute field goal by Joe Barnes.
“I think there are some things we can do to them from an offensive standpoint,” Elliott said of his team’s triple-option attack directed by junior quarterback Steven Hinson. “(Division I-AA) Nicholls State ran the option against them pretty successfully” even though Kingsville won that game 27-26.
While the Hounds almost surely need to win out to have a chance at the playoffs, third-year Kingsville coach Richard Cundiff said it’s no less an important a game for the Javs.
“They play hard, and they’re playing pretty good right now,” he said of the Hounds. “I think the next two or three weeks down the stretch are big for everybody.”
Kingsville is coming off a 38-13 spanking of West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, but Cundiff said he didn’t think the Javs played particularly well.
“I didn’t think we put in a very good effort,” he said. “We were able to come out with a win, but I don’t think we played that well.
“We’ve played a tough schedule, but you just keep moving forward and don’t linger on it. You can’t dwell on what’s happened.”
The game matches the South’s top scoring offense in Kingsville (30.1 ppg) against the conference’s stingiest scoring defense in ENMU (11.8).
“I think we’ll probably be about as good a defense as they’ve faced,” Elliott said. “I just hope we go out and play as well as we’re capable of. We just need to hang in there.”
The Hounds will enter the game with a heavy heart with the death Sunday of redshirt walk-on Eric Hodgest in an automobile accident. In addition, defensive lineman Anthony DeLeon and fullback Sukora Cooper lost family members last week.
“All of that is a little distracting to the players because they care for the players affected,” Elliott said.
Cooper, who missed last week’s 10-3 win over Texas A&M-Commerce to attend his uncle’s funeral, will be back in action, Elliott said.
He added that the team is relatively healthy going into the contest.