By Dave Wagner
Abilene Christian football coach Gary Gaines figured his team was about due against Tarleton State.
After all, the Wildcats had lost six in a row against the Texans going into last Saturday’s matchup in Stephenville, Texas, including all four since Gaines had been at the school.
But ACU ended the streak with authority, routing the then-No. 7 Texans 31-14 in a game which wasn’t even that close. ACU led 31-0 at halftime, and Tarleton didn’t score until the final quarter.
This week, Eastern New Mexico University hopes it can reverse a similar trend against ACU when the teams meet in their Lone Star Conference South Division opener at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Blackwater Draw.
The Greyhounds (1-3) have lost their last five games against the Wildcats, including three times when they came in with a 4-0 record.
ENMU coach Bud Elliott said the Hounds, who lost 33-14 at East Central last week, shouldn’t be overmatched against ACU.
“We can play with them, but we’re going to have to play better than we did (at ECU),” Elliott said. “We’re going to have to be patient and execute.”
Gaines said the Wildcats (2-1) benefitted from a injuries to a couple of key Tarleton players, but added that his team played well.
“Our defense really carried us in that game,” Gaines said. “We got some turnovers and we ran a punt back (73 yards for a touchdown by Danieal Manning).
“It was good to beat them. We hadn’t done that since I’d been here.”
Gaines realizes his team has upset ENMU’s apple cart of late, and he worries that the Hounds might be due this time.
“The roles are kind of reversed,” he said. “They’re a much better team than they’ve shown so far.”
Elliott said the Hounds are battling some injuries. Senior guard Joe Lewis, who went in as a starter for the injured Robert Acuna last week, suffered a concussion at East Central and won’t play.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Parker will get the start, Elliott said.
Senior defensive end Brandon Wickware, who had been nursing a deep thigh bruise, now has a knee problem and probably won’t play Saturday. He’ll be replaced by another redshirt freshman, Reggie Ellis.
“They put a hurt on (Tarleton),” Elliott said of the Wildcats. “Defensively, they’re giving up some yards, but they’ve really got some good athletes.”
Five turnovers made the Hounds’ task nearly impossible last week. All they can do now is try to pick up the pieces.
“The offensive line played great (at East Central), and we moved the ball all over the field, but we made some poor choices,” Elliott said. “Now we just have to take it one game at a time.”
Abilene Christian at ENMU
6 p.m. Saturday
At Blackwater Draw
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3
Records: Abilene Christian 2-1 (0-0 Lone Star Conference South), ENMU 1-3 (0-0).
Coaches: Abilene Christian, Gary Gaines, 5th year; ENMU, Bud Elliott, 11th year.
Last week: ACU scored the first 31 points in a 31-14 rout of then-No. 7 Tarleton State. ENMU lost at East Central 33-14.
Last meeting: 2003, ACU handed the Greyhounds their first loss of the season 24-14 in Abilene, Texas.
ACU players to watch: Danieal Manning, So. SS, 5-11, 190; David Jones, Sr. CB, 5-11, 180; Clayton Farrell, Jr. DE, 6-3, 250; Jerale Badon, Fr. WR, 5-8, 175; Rashon Myles, Jr. TB, 6-2, 215; Mark Gaines, So. TB, 5-9, 185.
Of note: Gary Gaines said Mark Gaines (no relation) and Myles share time at tailback and present different looks for opponents. … Coach Gaines’ first win at ACU came at Blackwater Draw 23-21 in 2000. The next year ACU went just 1-10, but its only win came at ENMU 30-28. The Wildcats lost seven games by three points or less that season. … ACU held Tarleton to just one score in four trips into the “red zone” last week. In its previous three games, the Texans had scored on all 10 trips inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Quotable: They’ve given us fits every time we play. They’ve all been close games, and our staff’s got a lot of respect for coach (Elliott) and his staff.” — ACU coach Gary Gaines, on his team’s five-game winning streak over Eastern.