By Dave Wagner
Following a 1-3 start, the Eastern New Mexico University football team has put itself in position to send retiring coach Bud Elliott out in a blaze of glory.
With four consecutive come-from-behind wins, the Greyhounds (5-3, 4-0 Lone Star Conference South) find themselves atop the division standings and back on the brink of NCAA Division II playoff contention.
This week, though, they face a big test when second-ranked and unbeaten Texas A&M-Kingsville comes to town for a 6 p.m. clash at Blackwater Draw.
While he knows his team’s work is cut out, Elliott admits he’s looking forward to the challenge.
“I think it’s going to be a good football game,” said Elliott, who became the school’s all-time winningest coach (67-47-2 in 11 seasons) with Saturday’s 31-21 win at Texas A&M-Commerce. “I just hope we continue to play with the confidence we’re playing with.
“We’re going to be the underdogs, and we know it. But it’s there for the taking.”
The Javelinas (6-0, 3-0) are coming off impressive home wins over Central Oklahoma (41-31) and Midwestern State (27-3), both ranked in Division II. ENMU has beaten Kingsville just three times in 19 attempts, but has won the last two meetings at Blackwater Draw.
The 37-34 verdict in 2002 was the Javs’ last loss in South Division play, but Kingsville coach Richard Cundiff downplayed any revenge factor.
“Quite honestly, we don’t think about the past or the future,” he said. “I think our coaches do a great job of preparing the team for right now.”
Kingsville’s potent offense is led by senior quarterback Daniel Taylor, who has completed 67 percent of his passes, and senior tailback Larry Williams, who missed part of last week’s game against Midwestern but has still compiled eight touchdowns and 666 rushing yards this season.
“We’re very fortunate to have Daniel,” Cundiff said of the junior college transfer. “He’s adapted to our system really well, and has a good command of the system.”
He added that the Javs’ defense “has played well all year, and gave great effort on Saturday” against Midwestern.
Elliott thinks the Hounds have gained momentum with their series of comebacks.
“We just go out and do the best we can each game,” he said. “This is one of the best teams they’ve had for a long time. They’re No. 2-ranked in the nation, and they deserve it.
“They’re just a good football team, but we seem to be playing a little better all the time and gaining confidence. Hopefully, we’re catching them at the right time.”
A win would assure ENMU a share of the division title, with a road trip to Midwestern State remaining next week. The Hounds close out the regular season at home on Nov. 6 against in-state rival Western New Mexico.
Texas A&M-Kingsville at ENMU
6 p.m. Saturday
At Blackwater Draw
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3
Records: TAM-K 6-0 (3-0 Lone Star Conference South), ENMU 5-3 (4-0).
Coaches: TAM-K, Richard Cundiff, 5th year; ENMU, Bud Elliott, 11th year.
Last week: Kingsville overpowered its second consecutive nationally-ranked LSC opponent, routing then-No. 24 Midwestern State 27-3 at Kingsville. ENMU scored its fourth consecutive South come-from-behind win, beating Texas A&M-Commerce 31-21 at Commerce, Texas.
Last meeting: 2003, TAM-K sent the Greyhounds on a season-ending, three-game slide with a 44-26 victory at Kingsville.
TAM-K players to watch: Daniel Taylor, Sr. QB, 6-1, 200; Larry Williams, Sr. RB, 5-10, 215; Maurice Washington, Sr. WR, 6-2, 225; Wilbert Martin, Jr. DT, 6-3, 318; Curtis Tyler, Sr. DE, 6-1, 238; Deandrae Fillmore, Jr. LB, 5-9, 216; Aoa Sululua, Jr. LB, 6-2, 230.
Of note: The Hounds need one victory in their final three outings to clinch the program’s eighth consecutive winning season. … In its four division games, Eastern has been outscored 52-23 in the first half but has posted a 95-45 edge over its foes after halftime. … Cundiff has led the Javelinas to the NCAA Division II playoffs in each of the past three seasons, including semifinal berths in 2002 and 2003. … Kingsville has only nine games this season — all against LSC teams — after its Sept. 18 matchup at Division I-AA Nicholls State was cancelled due to concerns about Hurricane Ivan. It was the first time a Javs game has been cancelled since 1967. … Ironically, TAM-K’s only game decided by less than 10 points this season came in a season-opening 10-6 win at Northeastern State — one of the LSC’s two remaining winless squads.
Quotable: “We’ve been expecting that.” — ENMU coach Bud Elliott, on redshirt freshman running back J.J. Jennings’ 124-yard output on 13 carries at Commerce, including a game-tying 73-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter.