By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
The offense had a solid day, and the defense made big plays.
Still, Eastern New Mexico University football coach Mark Ribaudo said the Greyhounds’ special teams were as responsible as anything for Saturday’s 33-30 win at Abilene Christian in the Lone Star Conference South Division opener for both squads.
He said it was the first time he’s left Abilene a winner since the 1998 season.
“That’s not an easy place to win,” Ribaudo said. “I’m happy as heck to go out there and come away with the victory.”
One of the major points in ENMU’s game plan was to kick away from the Wildcats’ Danieal Manning, who has six career returns for touchdowns, including two in the previous two weeks.
Punter-placekicker Lee Price did that successfully, to some extent sacrificing on his punting average to accomplish the mission. He also kicked away from Manning on kickoffs.
Manning’s only return of the day resulted in a muffed punt near the goalline and a safety when the Hounds corralled him in the end zone.
“Danieal Manning is the best player in the conference,” Ribaudo said. “That’s not just my humble opinion; that’s pretty much everyone’s opinion (in the conference).
“That was one of the three keys — time management (by the offense), don’t kick it to Manning and keep them from big plays.”
Ribaudo gave credit to assistant Mike Walton, who coaches special teams, for ENMU’s success against Manning. “I thought we put together a great game plan,” Ribaudo said.
Walton, who played at ENMU from 1996-99 and has been an assistant since then, knew it was vital not to let Manning take over the game.
“I haven’t seen anybody like that since I’ve been in the conference,” Walton said. “We told our kids all week that if they did a good job of kicking away from him, he’d get frustrated.”
In addition, the Hounds (3-2) blocked an extra point kick and a field goal, and forced a second extra point try to be missed.
“We knew they were getting a lot of points off specials (in earlier games),” Walton said. “And they were feeding off Manning’s returns.”
The Hounds picked up 338 total yards in the game, including quarterback Michael Benton’s fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing effort. Defensively, they bent at times but managed to protect the narrow margin over the final 10 minutes.
Ribaudo said linebackers Tim Ojeda, Jeremy Mullins and Kenneth Odie all had solid performances on defense.
“We’ve got a lot to work on, but we came up with some big plays,” he said. “We had some kids who played just incredible.”