By Dave Wagner
CNJ SPORTS WRITER
BLACKWATER DRAW — Even doubling the opposition in total yardage couldn’t save the struggling Eastern New Mexico University football team.
Four turnovers, including two which set up 10 second-quarter points, were too much to overcome for the Greyhounds as Southwestern Oklahoma escaped with a 17-14 Lone Star Conference crossover victory Saturday at Greyhound Stadium in the season finale for both teams.
ENMU (6-5), which lost its final three games, scored first on a 49-yard run by junior quarterback Steven Hinson, then pulled close when Hinson capped a 12-play, 62-yard march by scampering in from 8 yards out with 5 1/2 minutes left. But SWOSU (5-6) hung on despite being outgained 337-164.
Earlier in the final period, ENMU freshman kicker Lee Price missed wide right on a 30-yard field goal at the end of a 16-play march.
“We hold our breath on every down in (ENMU’s option) offense,” SWOSU coach Paul Sharp said. “The team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins, and we were able to capitalize on some things.
“I thought (ENMU defensive coordinator Mark) Ribaudo’s defense played exceptionally well and shut us down a lot. I have a lot of respect for that team. I think coach (Bud) Elliott gets about as much out of his talent year in and year out as anyone.”
The Mustangs, who beat LSC North Division-leading Tarleton State at home last week, had to drive only 16 and 32 yards for their second-quarter scores. Fullback Travis Cole went in from a yard out in the final minute of the half for a 10-7 lead after SWOSU’s Jason Munoz recovered a muffed punt by Derrick Hunter.
The first SWOSU points were set up by linebacker Michael Hart’s 27-yard interception return to the ENMU 23, which results in Scott Poole’s 24-yard field goal.
Senior quarterback Reade Box, who suffered a concussion late in the half on a hard hit by ENMU linebacker Courage Idemudia, returned after sitting out the Mustangs’ first series after intermission. He capped a 57-yard, six-play drive — kept alive on a fourth-down interference penalty against Eastern — with a 29-yard scoring pass to Chase Pratt with just over six minutes left in the third quarter.
“We’ve had a tough year,” Sharp said. “We had some close ballgames that we lost. But the kids hung in there and finished on a strong note.”
ENMU coach Bud Elliott, who came up short in his third try for career coaching win No. 200 at the college level, bemoaned the turnovers.
“You can’t turn the football over,” he said. “We moved the ball all over the field on them.”
ENMU’s last chance appeared to go by the boards when Hinson, who rushed for a career-best 158 yards on 23 carries, and running back Jason Tezeno missed connections on an option pitch. SWOSU tackle Colt Allison recovered the fumble at the ENMU 32 with 1:57 left.
The Hounds got the ball back in time for a desperation 54-yard completion from backup QB Jon Bell to Hunter, who was dragged down at the Mustangs’ 23 as time ran out.