By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
BLACKWATER DRAW — The Eastern New Mexico University football team could get precious little going Saturday night.
A fumble set up an early Abilene Christian score and the Wildcats punched over another touchdown shortly before halftime in rolling to a 21-0 victory over the Greyhounds in the Lone Star Conference South Division opener for both teams at Greyhound Stadium.
The Wildcats, ranked 25th in the American Football Coaches Association poll this week, improved to 4-0 in a season for the first time since 1983. They also have recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1980.
“Our defense played well again,” said Abilene Christian coach Chris Thomsen, whose squad blanked Southwestern Oklahoma 31-0 last week. “And I thought Eastern New Mexico’s defense did a good job of slowing down our offense.
“The game could’ve turned on any play.”
Quarterback Billy Malone, who was completing 67 percent of his passes coming in, did nearly that well in this one. He hit 19-of-29 passes for 255 yards, and several times kept drives going with key third-down strikes. The Wildcats went 7-of-13 in the game on third-down plays.
Chancy Campbell rushed for 76 yards and two short touchdowns, while wide receiver Jerale Badon caught seven passes for 148 yards.
ENMU (1-3) forced a punt following the opening kickoff, but fullback J.J. Jennings fumbled on the Hounds’ first play to give the Wildcats possession at the Eastern 30. After a third-and-5, 17-yard completion from Malone to Badon, the quarterback found sophomore wide-out Tyjuan Manning wide open in the left corner on second-and-goal from the 8.
Late in the half, Abilene Christian drove 79 yards in nine plays, with Malone going 5-for-6 on the drive to four different receivers. Campbell finished it off from a yard out with 1:32 left.
The Hounds, who had not been across midfield to that point, threatened to score when junior running back Jason Walker carried an option pitch from Michael Benton 43 yards to the Wildcats’ 41. Benton then scrambled through a maze of defenders for 18 yards to the 24, but two plays later his pass into the end zone for J.T. Thompson was intercepted by safety Tony Harp.
“They’re a good football team,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said, noting the Wildcats have turned the ball over just twice in four games. “They don’t make mistakes. For us to beat them, we can’t make mistakes.”
Wildcats kicker Matt Adams missed a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter, but Abilene Christian clinched the game with Campbell’s second 1-yard run early in the final stanza. That score was set up by a third-and-30 completion from Malone to Badon, good for 37 yards to the ENMU 2.
“The play right before the half was big,” Thomsen said of Harp’s pick. “Turnovers are almost always the difference in games.”
ENMU was limited to 195 total yards, all but nine on the ground. Walker, who had carried just once for minus-3 yards in the team’s first three games, finished with 91 yards on four totes.
“Our defense had some really good spots where we shut them down,” Ribaudo said. “We’re going to keep working and getting better. We’re not going to give up.”