By Dave Wagner
John Fassel knew he was stepping into a tough situation this season as New Mexico Highlands head football coach.
The Cowboys entered the 2003 campaign with a 12-game losing streak, and didn’t figure to break it in their opener. They didn’t, losing 72-13 on Aug. 30 at Northern Colorado — which is making the transition up to Division I-AA this season.
Fassel, the son of New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel, was the Cowboys’ quarterbacks and wide receivers coach last year. He’s hoping that with the Northern Colorado game out of the way, NMHU will find itself more competitive against the rest of the schedule — beginning with Saturday’s 6 p.m. contest against Eastern New Mexico University at Blackwater Draw.
“We have a tough opening schedule,” said Fassel, noting that five of the team’s first six games are on the road. “But if we can get a couple of wins, that’s the ultimate challenge.
“Sooner or later, we’re going to break the streak — hopefully, sooner.”
Meantime, the Greyhounds are coming off an opening 18-17 win on Saturday at NMHU’s fellow Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference school, Adams State. ENMU won when freshman Lee Price kicked his fourth field goal of the game, a 36-yarder, with seven seconds left.
Eastern coach Bud Elliott said the Hounds played well on defense and special teams, but need to step up their offensive production.
“We need to go out and play aggressively and confidently from an offensive standpoint,” Elliott said. “We need to really improve. Our consistency on offense has to change in a hurry.”
Junior quarterback Steven Hinson put up 30 passes against the Grizzlies, completing only 10. Elliott said not all of it was Hinson’s fault.
“Steve had a couple of beautiful throws right on the money, and we dropped them,” he said.
The Hounds expect to be without senior wide receiver-kick returner Cale Sanders for a second consecutive week due to a groin problem, Elliott said.
Fassel hopes last week’s open date has given the Cowboys time to shake off the effects of the opener.
“There’s too many games left to dwell on just one game,” he said. “Hopefully, it won’t hurt us too much and now we can come back to our level (Division II) and be able to compete.”
Fassel was a busy man in the offseason, overhauling his coaching staff, redesigning the team uniforms and bringing in 47 high school and junior college recruits, according to an NMHU release.
And Elliott expects a challenge from Highlands, advising that it would be wise not to put too much stock in the Cowboys’ opening loss.
“Offensively, they’re really big up front,” he said. “Defensively they’re not that big, and they’re pretty young up front.
“I think they’re pretty disciplined and pretty sound, and I think they’ve got better personnel than in the past.”