BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico’s “NASCAR” offense was rolling in the first half Saturday. The defense picked up the Greyhounds in the third quarter.
ENMU rode a fast start and timely plays to a 55-20 Lone Star Conference North win over Southeastern Oklahoma at Greyhound Stadium, keeping the Hounds alive for a possible share of the division title.
East Central beat division-leading Northeastern State 48-21 on Saturday, leaving both teams at 4-1 in North play. The Hounds (4-5, 3-2 North) can gain a three-way share of the title if they win at Northeastern and East Central loses at Texas A&M-Commerce next Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Wes Wood threw three touchdown passes and senior cornerback Rodney Mitchell returned an interception 76 yards for a score, helping ENMU build a 41-13 halftime lead.
“Our offense was executing (early),” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “This team sat in their zone (pass defense) for a while and we had great success against that. When they jumped into man-to-man, we were able to beat that at times.”
The Savage Storm (3-6, 2-4) didn’t go away, though, driving the second-half kickoff for senior running back Baylen Laury’s third touchdown of the contest, then recovering an onside kick.
The Hounds eventually forced a missed field goal, then after going three-and-out, stopped Southeastern on downs near the ENMU 20 again to preserve the cushion. Southeastern ran 28 plays on three possessions to start the third quarter to three for the Hounds.
“Those two drives, if we could’ve scored on either one of them … I’m not saying we’re back in it, but it changes everything,” Storm coach Ray Richards said.
ENMU’s defense allowed 432 yards, but sacked Storm quarterbacks seven times. Strong safety Tillman Stevens, the LSC’s leading tackler, had eight solo tackles and was in on 18 stops.
“Our offense is working hard every week, so we didn’t mind (the challenge),” sophomore cornerback Keith Davis, who had three of ENMU’s 10 pass breakups. “They tried to test me a lot, but I was able to step up and make some plays.”
Meantime, the ENMU offense piled up 349 total yards in the first half. Wood threw scoring passes of 27 and 41 yards to Darian Dale and 60 yards to Carl Bouldin, and senior running back Tony Valenzuela ran for a pair of TDs.
Bouldin, who finished with five catches for 138 yards, said the Hounds were determined to bounce back from a 53-14 loss to nationally-ranked Abilene Christian in the previous game.
“It was a long (week) after the ACU game,” he said. “Our game plan was to play fast, run our NASCAR and get their defense tired. (Playing from ahead) made everything easier.”
Wood finished off the scoring on a 38-yard run around right end with just under seven minutes left.
“That was something we’d seen where they bring the end down (toward the middle),” Wood said. “I guess I just read it right for once.”
ENMU marched 80 yards to score following the opening kickoff, but the Savage Storm countered with a 15-play drive seemingly headed for a tying tally. But quarterback Logan Turner overthrew receiver Aaron Stringfellow and Mitchell, who tied for the NCAA Division II lead with seven interceptions last season, finally got his first this year and rode an escort down the left sideline for a 14-0 lead.
Mitchell said he almost had one a couple of plays earlier.
“It just seemed like everything slowed down (on the interception),” he said. “I missed the one before that, but I just told myself I had to make the play.”
Southeastern struggled trying to play catch-up.
“We’re not that kind of a team,” Richards said. “(Mitchell’s interception) was the key break of the first half. Our passing game is not where we’d like it to be right now.”