By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Homecoming time is upon Eastern New Mexico University, as those with Greyhound ties come back and feel at one with the football team.
It’s almost that way for sophomore Matt Handler — except he’s on the roster.
As Angelo State comes to Greyhound Stadium, Handler gets to put on the green and silver for the first time since 2008, when the Greyhounds went 2-9 and were adjusting to the spread offense.
The team he returns to since his recovery from a shoulder injury leads the NCAA in offensive yards per game and is second in Division II in scoring offense.
“It’s great, even just getting to watch it,” said Handler. “It makes me want to be a part of it.
“It’s a huge step from last year, and nobody expected it, except the guys in the locker room.”
Of course, the Greyhounds (2-3, 0-1 Lone Star Conference South) likely also expected to be above .500 at this point, but have lost two one-possession games and held a fourth-quarter lead in their most recent loss, 44-33 last week at No. 2 Abilene Christian.
“With the style we’re (playing), one side of the coin has several mistakes,” Greyhounds coach Mark Ribaudo said. “The other side of the coin has great things.
“We need to make sure we do more good things than not good things. We need to catch a couple more passes. We need to remove a (big) kick return or a sack.”
Led by lineman Calvin Fance, the Rams (4-1, 1-0) lead the LSC in sacks with 20. Handler figures that will be a key in the game, along with composure of the skill positions.
“It’s important to play our game,” Handler said, “don’t let them get us out of our mentality of airing the ball out and scoring as much as you can.”
Ribaudo said the Rams may be less flashy at some positions than Abilene Christian. But just like the Wildcats, there’s no Achilles’ heel when it comes to Angelo.
“They’re a super solid football team,” said Ribaudo, who figured quarterback Josh Neiswander could be in the star category. “They’re good at everything. They don’t have a glaring weakness that we could take advantage.”
Ribaudo said Handler’s return is well-timed, as the normal attrition of injuries are coming to affect Eastern.
“Matt Handler’s a big receiver (6-3, 200 pounds) with great hands,” Ribaudo said. “Since Darian Dale’s kind of questionable, it’s good to have Matt in the fray.
Handler said seeing the offense succeed following a rough 2008 season is satisfying, but it doesn’t feel like a paradigm shift.
“In a lot of ways it’s the same because we have the same guys,” I’m just excited about getting to play.”
Angelo State (4-1) at ENMU (2-3)
2 p.m. Saturday, Greyhound Stadium
Coaches: Angelo State, Dale Carr, fifth season, 18-27. ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, fifth season, 16-32
Last week: The Greyhounds led through much of the second half against No. 2 Abilene Christian before the Wildcats rallied for a 44-33 victory. Ryan Smith’s 36-yard field goal in the closing seconds gave the Rams a 20-17 win over No. 17 Midwestern State.
Last meeting: 2008, ASU 25-13. The Rams lead the series 19-13-1.
ASU players to watch: Josh Neiswander, QB, 6-2, 215, Jr.; V’Keon Lacey, WR, 6-4, 2-5, Jr.; D’Angelo Waites, LB, 6-1, 245, Sr.; Markeith Jones, DB, 5-10, 180, Jr.; Calvin Fance, DL, 6-1, 250, Sr.; Pete Parker, LB, 6-1, 195, Sr.
Notes: The Greyhounds lead college football with an average of 595.6 yards per game — and sophomore quarterback J.J. Harp leads the nation in total offense at 518.8 yards a game. The Rams lead the Lone Star Conference in sacks with 20.
Go figure: The Greyhounds are 113 points away from the school’s season scoring record of 337. The team has compiled 224 points, and has six games remaining.