By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
The challenge for the Eastern New Mexico University football team was already significant. This week, facing 10th-ranked and unbeaten Tarleton State at Blackwater Draw, it has gotten even tougher.
The Greyhounds (4-3, 0-3 South) came out of Saturday’s 62-31 loss at West Texas A&M beaten up, especially on offense. Senior quarterback Michael Benton sustained a thigh injury during the game and is listed as “questionable” by coach Mark Ribaudo for Saturday’s 6 p.m. kickoff.
His backup, sophomore J.T. Thompson, was lost for the season during the game with a dislocated shoulder. Thompson, who started at QB against the Buffaloes with Benton at a running back position, had rushed for nearly 500 yards this season in limited duty — less than 40 carries.
In the event Benton can’t play, freshman Anthony Ramos would start against the Texans (7-0, 2-0).
Ribaudo said the Hounds also lost starting guard Carlos Downey to an ACL injury. Senior Kevin Parker will start in his place. Meantime, senior back-up linebacker Sam Adams (hernia) was also lost.
“We have a unique situation (this week),” Ribaudo said. “What we’re trying to do is get people healthy.”
Even healthy, the Hounds would figure to have their hands full against the Texans, who average well over 400 yards a game and are outscoring opponents by an average margin of 36-18.
“Defensively, we’re trying to find a way to not make Tarleton’s life easy,” Ribaudo said. “It’s such a powerful offense. I haven’t seen a weakness.”
Time was when ENMU dominated the Texans, but that has changed. Still, third-year Texans coach Sam McElroy was quick to point out that Tarleton has won only once at Blackwater Draw — two years ago in its last visit.
“Any time you go to Blackwater Draw to play it’s going to be a difficult task,” he said.
Junior running back Marcus Robinson, who himself is nursing a sore shoulder, said the Hounds know what they’re up against this week.
“They’re a great Lone Star Conference team,” he said. “They’re physical and fast on defense, but I think we match up good with them.”
Robinson said he expects Benton to play, noting that the senior QB left early in last year’s 48-0 loss at Tarleton with a concussion.
“Michael is a gamer,” Robinson said. “He’s looking for a little revenge from last year’s game.
“I think he’ll be fine. His leg is pretty sore, but by gametime I think his adrenalin will be pumping and he’ll be ready to go.”
Last week, Tarleton passed its biggest test so far this season, rallying from an early deficit to beat 23rd-ranked Midwestern State 44-32.
The Texans have games remaining against the South’s other Top 25 squads — Abilene Christian (No. 12) and WT (No. 6), both at home.
McElroy said preparing for the Hounds’ option attack is challenging.
“You’ve only got three or four days to prepare for it,” he said. “You’ve got to really play great technique and be disciplined. Hopefully, we can get it down enough to slow them down.”
Tarleton State at ENMU
When: 6 p.m. today in a Lone Star Conference South Division game at Blackwater Draw.
Records: Tarleton State 7-0 (2-0), ENMU 4-3 (0-3).
Last week: The Texans rallied from a 10-point deficit late in the second quarter to beat Midwestern State 44-32 at Stephenville, Texas. ENMU lost to West Texas A&M 62-31 at Canyon, Texas.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com
Coaches: Tarleton State, Sam McElroy, 3rd year; Eastern New Mexico, Mark Ribaudo, 3rd year.
Last meeting: 2006, Tarleton handed the Greyhounds a 48-0 setback at Stephenville.
Tarleton State players to watch: Granthan Scott, 6-1, 215, Fr., QB; Ranardrick Phillips, 5-10, 202, Sr., SS; Nathan Robinson, 5-8, 180, Jr., CB-KR; Michael Sampson, 6-2, 218, Jr., RB; Tywain Myles, 6-2, 305, Sr., DT.
Notes: ENMU leads the all-time series 12-3, but the Texans have won the last three. Tarleton’s lone win at Blackwater Draw was a 34-27 decision in 2005. … The Texans moved up three spots from No. 13 to No. 10 this week in the American Football Coaches Association’s NCAA Division II poll. They are one of four South teams in the Top 25, the others being West Texas A&M (No. 6), Abilene Christian (No. 12) and Midwestern State (No. 23). … Tarleton starts nine seniors on defense. In last week’s game, the Texans allowed 346 yards in the first half, then held Midwestern State to nine points and 173 yards the rest of the way. … ENMU senior QB Michael Benton was held to a season-low 45 yards last week at WT, but still eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the third consecutive year. … ENMU has thrown only 26 passes in seven games, completing five. Benton is 4-for-17, but three of his completions have gone for touchdowns.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner