By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
BLACKWATER DRAW — In a game of ebb and flow, it looked like Eastern New Mexico University’s football team would ride out the last wave.
Central Oklahoma controlled most of the first half, while the Greyhounds had the better of it for much of the second — until junior quarterback Ryan O’Hara marched his team 89 yards for a score in the final minute to lift the Bronchos to a 19-16 victory on Saturday night at Greyhound Stadium.
O’Hara, who was 11-for-19 passing to that point, threw on 11 of the 12 plays in the final march. He completed eight, including a 7-yard slant to receiver Marcellus Parker for the score with 26 seconds left.
All four of the Bronchos’ games have been decided in the final minutes, including two overtime affairs.
“Every game we’ve played has come down to this,” Central Oklahoma coach Chuck Langston said. “It’s a great feeling (to win).”
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said the final drive was more the result of O’Hara’s play than anything.
“It wasn’t as much our (pass) coverage as the fact that their quarterback played his best in the last two minutes,” he said.
The touchdown was set up by an 18-yard screen pass to running back Maurice Little to the ENMU 2. A false-start penalty and an incomplete pass left the Bronchos (2-2) with second down at the 7 before the game-winning TD strike.
“(O’Hara) played really well,” Langston said. “He took what they gave us. It was a great call with the screen, and Marcellus made a great play at the end.”
Despite being outplayed early, ENMU (1-2) took the lead when junior quarterback Michael Benton capped an 80-yard drive following the second-half kickoff with a 7-yard run.
The Hounds had chances to perhaps put the game out of reach, but one drive ended in a fumbled pitch by Benton while on another they were forced to settle for a Lee Price field goal.
Benton, who finished with 171 yards on 23 carries, said the Hounds made just enough mistakes to cost themselves a win.
“That’s part of the game,” he said. “We just have to try to eliminate those mistakes.”
The Bronchos led 12-7 at halftime after ENMU forced them to settle for two James Dixon field goals early in the game. That was quickly wiped out by Benton when play resumed.
“Against that triple-option (offense), you’ve got to score touchdowns,” Langston said. “That No. 4 (Benton) is a great football player. He wants the ball in his hands, and he makes plays.”
Benton said the Hounds simply executed better in the second half.
“We didn’t change too much (at halftime),” he said. “It was just a team effort. The team fought their (rears) off. We’ve just got to put this one behind us.”
Ribaudo, whose team lost offensive linemen Kevin Parker (lower leg) and Gil Shackelford (ankle) to injury during the first half, had no problem with his team’s effort.
“I was really proud of the way we played in the second half,” Ribaudo said. “We tried to put ourselves in a position to win the game. We just didn’t get it done at the end.”