By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
If Northeastern State has an advantage against Eastern New Mexico University in tonight’s 6 p.m. (MDT) Lone Star Conference crossover football game in Tahlequah, Okla., it’s that the Redmen have already played this season.
While ENMU opens its campaign with a rare Thursday night, Northeastern lost at Arkansas Tech 33-32 in its opener last week, also played on Thursday night.
Second-year ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said his team is anxious to play.
“We’re about as prepared as a team could be at this time,” he said. “We’re ready to play a game for sure.”
The Greyhounds open with their two longest road trips — they play at East Central next week — before getting five of their final eight games at home.
Since longtime assistant John Horner took over in 2003, Northeastern has struggled, winning just five games in that time.
Horner said there were some differences in philosophy on the staff when the change was made, and it’s taking a while to implement his system.
“It was on the way down when I took over,” said Horner, who came to Northeastern in 1988. “My recruiting philosophy was to build a foundation with high school kids (as opposed to relying on junior college transfers).”
Northeastern dropped a heartbreaker last week when a celebration penalty on a potential tying score late in the game pushed the extra point attempt back 15 yards. Kicker Brett Sowers was wide left on the kick, his third miss of the night.
Horner took exception with that penalty, as well as several others in the game, but said the Redmen didn’t play as well as he’d hoped.
“We had some tough calls in that game, but that happens on the road,” he said. “Defensively, we didn’t play as well as I thought we would. They’d switched schemes (from the previous year) on offense, so we went in a little blind.”
Ribaudo said the Redmen should be a formidable challenge.
“They scored 32 points on a good Gulf South (Conference) team,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and it’s a tough place to go play.
“Arkansas Tech is a solid, solid program. (Northeastern) got its first-game jitters out, and they’re going to be a better team this week.”
Ribaudo and Horner were defensive coordinators at their respective schools before moving into the head coaching positions.
“It’s a change for both of us,” Horner said. “I’d never had to deal with offense before. Trying to implement your philosophy takes a little time.”