By Dave Wagner, Freedom New Mexico
BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico University coach Mark Ribaudo knew it would be tough for his team to just line up and play with fourth-ranked Abilene Christian, so he decided to throw a few things at the Wildcats.
Like an onside kick to start the game (it didn’t work), a 2-point conversion off the swinging gate (it did work), and a fake punt from midfield (it also was successful).
The Greyhounds played reasonably well for much of Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division opener, but they didn’t have the manpower to stay with the Wildcats in what turned into a 56-11 thrashing at Greyhound Stadium.
The score certainly doesn’t indicate it, but the Hounds (1-4) made ACU work for a lot of what it got.
“I thought we battled for quite a while,” Ribaudo said. “We tried everything we could. I can’t think of anything else we could do.”
Senior running back Bernard Scott rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns for the Wildcats (5-0), while quarterback Billy Malone found wide receiver Edmund Gates eight times for 164 yards and a pair of scores.
And while the Hounds had several sustained drives, including a 75-yard touchdown march that featured the fake punt on the first play of the second quarter and two ACU penalties that kept it alive late, the Wildcats’ defense put its own points on the board.
Freshman defensive end Aston Whiteside wrapped up quarterback J.J. Harp for a sack near the ENMU 10 late in the first quarter, then ripped the ball away as Harp was going down and took it in for a score. In the third quarter, sophomore linebacker Casey Carr intercepted Harp’s option pitch near the goalline and carried that into the end zone.
“Mark is a great coach,” ACU coach Chris Thomsen said. “They caught us off-guard in the first half.
“I thought Eastern played really good. Their offense did a nice job of throwing the short stuff and converting some third downs.”
Harp, a freshman making his first college start, completed 36-of-61 mostly-short passes for 199 yards. The completions tied a school record set by Kevin Kott in 1984 and the attempts fell one short of Corey Baker’s school mark set two weeks ago at Southeastern Oklahoma.
The Wildcats’ defense, though, was so quick it turned some of those short passes into losses.
“I think Harp is going to be a good player, and (running back) Joseph Banyard and (wide receiver Jessie) Poku,” Thomsen said. “They gave us some problems tonight.”
Abilene Christian pretty much took the starch out of ENMU in the third quarter, after the Hounds opened the period with an 11-play, 53-yard drive lasting more than five minutes and ending in a 40-yard field goal by freshman Adam Richards.
On the first play after the kickoff, Malone found Gates rambling wide open down the middle for a 74-yard score.
“They just have so many weapons,” Ribaudo said. “They’re definitely the No. 4 team in the nation, in my humble opinion.
“For us to win that game, we’d have had to play nearly a perfect game and they would’ve had to turn the ball over four or five times.”