By Dave Wagner, Freedom Newspapers
BLACKWATER DRAW — It was a matchup of ground game vs. air attack on Saturday night. Suffice it to say, the former dominated.
Eastern New Mexico University compiled 488 yards on the ground, averaging nine yards a carry, and ran away from East Central 49-13 in a Lone Star Conference crossover game at Greyhound Stadium.
The Greyhounds opened the season 3-0 for the first time in four years as quarterback Michael Benton rushed 13 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns, backup QB J.T. Thompson added 140 yards on only four carries — including a 99-yard TD run in the fourth quarter — and senior running back Jason Walker chipped in 76 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, the Hounds contained East Central’s spread attack, limiting the Tigers (1-3) to 36 yards on the ground and 330 total.
Sophomore free safety Devin Sweet had two of ENMU’s four interceptions, while strong safety-linebacker Jeremy Hibbler was in on a team-high eight tackles.
“Our option game clicked early,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “We were able to keep them off-balance and we were off to the races.”
Walker capped ENMU’s first two possessions with TD runs of 6 and 8 yards. He added a 24-yard run in the third quarter.
Walker said the offense was determined to play better than it did in a 14-10 win over Northeastern State on Sept. 6.
“Last week we struggled on offense, and we put a lot of weight on the defense,” Walker said. “The defense has to be consistent and the offense has to be consistent. We just had to get the job done tonight.”
Benton picked up his touchdowns in the second quarter on runs of 35 and 53 yards, then put ENMU up 35-7 at halftime with the Hounds’ only completion of the night — his 27-yard TD pass to freshman Jessie Poku in the final minute of the half.
Meantime, the defense spent the night disrupting the Tigers. Starting quarterback Marcus Johnson came out after a hard hit in the second quarter, and backup Josh Phillips threw for both East Central scores.
The two QBs combined to go 31-for-55 for 294 yards.
“They’re a decent ballclub,” Ribaudo said. “Their quarterback couldn’t quite get in a rhythm, and then when he got hurt it made it hard for them.”
Sweet, who moved into the lineup when starter Mark Patterson was lost to an injury during preseason, intercepted Johnson on the first series of the game, returning the ball 18 yards to the Tigers’ 45 to set up Walker’s first score. His other INT came in the third quarter.
Tillman Stevens and Derek Higgs had the other picks.
“We worked all week to get our pass coverage down, said Sweet, a 2006 Clovis High grad. “The defensive line did a good job of getting pressure. I just pretty much stayed back and read the quarterback.”
Thompson’s run came one play after Higgs’ interception and made it 49-7 with 7:27 remaining. He said he got a key block from freshman Dustin Bohannon.
“Once the slotback (Bohannon) cut the linebacker, I knew I was gone,” Thompson said. “I just couldn’t let anybody catch me from behind.”