By Jesse Wolfersberger: Freedom Newspapers
Unbeaten West Texas A&M’s 52-51 overtime win over Eastern New Mexico University on Saturday before a record crowd of 22,993 at Kimbrough Stadium in Canyon, Texas, was not a typical shootout.
Instead, it was a battle of offensive philosophies — ENMU’s punishing ground game versus West Texas A&M’s spread passing attack.
In this game, both strategies worked.
ENMU rushed 69 times for a school-record 475 yards, while WT quarterback Dalton Bell passed for 405 yards.
Eight Hounds carried the ball. Seven Buffs caught a pass.
“We came out here to show the fans we can play with anybody,” ENMU senior Corey White said. “Even though we run the option, we are a competitive team.”
Oddly enough, each team executed its opponent’s forte. ENMU completed only three passes, but collected 157 yards and a touchdown; WT rushed only 24 times, but picked up 146 yards and two touchdowns.
“Even if they would have went up 14 or 21 points we would have stuck with the same game plan,” ENMU quarterback Michael Benton said. “That’s why we’re successful.”
Through the first quarter, the game did not look like it would end in the 50s.
The shootout began after Lee Price’s 29-yard field goal for ENMU tied the score 3-3 early in the second quarter.
Over the next 33 minutes the teams combined for 97 points. Of the 12 scoring drives in regulation, six were three plays or less and nine lasted less than two minutes. Five touchdowns were 36 yards or longer.
With the game tied 45-45, ENMU took over at its 39-yard line with 4:41 left in the fourth quarter.
The Hounds drove to the WT 18-yard line, and with 12 seconds left Jason Tezeno ran a sweep. He gained only one yard, but was unable to get to the sideline.
“I was signaling (for a timeout), I saw a player or two signaling, our coach was signaling on the sideline,” Benton said. “I mean, there are two seconds left. If you have timeouts, you figure the refs would know we want to kick the field goal.”
WT coach Don Carthel didn’t want to talk about the failed timeout in a post-game interview.
“That’s irrelevant, isn’t it?” Carthel said. “The game is over. I don’t want to second-guess anything. That is the way I saw it. (ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo) saw it another way, (but) it’s irrelevant.”
After 138 points and 1,183 yards, the difference in the game was a failed 2-point conversion in overtime.
“I thought our defense had run out of gas,” Ribaudo said. “I thought we needed to either win this thing right there, or lose it.”
Carthel did not question Ribaudo’s decision.
“I would have done the same thing if I was in his position,” he said.
The ENMU players said it was tough to watch their rivals walk away with the trophy.
“It’s the Wagon Wheel, it’s big for both schools,” Benton said. “It’s huge, it’s humongous. It’s like (Oklahoma and Texas). This is our Red River Shootout.”