By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
If nothing else, the Southeastern Oklahoma football team is battle-tested.
The Savage Storm, playing its sixth consecutive Lone Star Conference North Division game at 2 p.m. today against Eastern New Mexico University at Blackwater Draw, has seen the previous five contests decided by seven points or less.
Included were overtime wins over Southwestern Oklahoma (42-35) and Central Oklahoma (56-55), followed by last week’s 20-19 loss to East Central.
“We’ve had five nailbiters in a row,” Savage Storm coach Ray Richards said.
Last week’s setback eliminated Southeastern (3-5, 2-3 North) from the division race, while the Greyhounds (3-5, 2-2) are still hoping to figure in a share of the crown.
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said the teams’ strengths on offense have been problem areas for the other on defense.
“We’ve got a good passing game and they’re not one of the best pass defenses (in the LSC),” Ribaudo said. “They’ve got a good running game, and we’ve struggled against the run.”
Southeastern features one of the LSC’s top backs in senior Baylen Laury, who is second in the conference to Central Oklahoma’s Josh Cunningham in yards rushing (881) but leads in yards per carry (7.9) and yards per game (125.9). He hurt the Hounds last year with 184 yards as the Savage Storm pulled out a 49-47 win at Blackwater Draw, even though ENMU set several NCAA overall and Division II records.
“They’re pretty good,” Richards said of the Hounds. “When they get on a roll, they can put up some points.”
Laury rushed for 222 yards in the loss to East Central, the sixth-highest total in school history.
“They’re a good football team,” Ribaudo said. “They always play hard, and they know what they want to do. You have to make sure you’re sound in everything you do (against them).”
ENMU is hoping to be more balanced with an improved rushing attack. Senior Tony Valenzuela posted 105 yards on the ground in 20 carries in last week’s loss to Abilene Christian, ranked third in NCAA Division II.
“Most of the credit goes to the offensive line,” said Valenzuela, a senior from Seagraves, Texas. “I try to run hard every time I get the opportunity. I see a little crease and I’ll hit it.
“I’m getting confidence. I’m starting to see the holes as they progress.”
ENMU’s line is pretty dinged up, Ribaudo said. Senior tackle Karleton Graves (neck) was injured in the ACU game and is not expected to play this week, and several others are nursing injuries.
The Hounds, who substitute liberally in the line in their fast-paced attack, have only nine of the original 17 linemen available this week, including two freshmen.
“We’ve just got to go back to work,” Valenzuela said. “Southeastern is a good team, and so are we. We’re going to go out there and compete.”