Eastern New Mexico University’s football team fell short of its goal for a Lone Star Conference North Division title and a winning record.
Still, sixth-year coach Mark Ribaudo said the Greyhounds accomplished plenty.
“I think it was an extraordinary season,” he said of the 5-6 mark, including 3-3 in North play. “I would like to see anybody else in the country get done what we did under the circumstances.”
ENMU offensive co-ordinator Mike Howard suffered a heart attack after the team’s first game and was limited the rest of the way. Defensive co-ordinator Todd Wallis and his wife, Michelle, had a six-week premature baby in July which demanded extra attention.
The offensive line, considered a strength in preseason, was hampered by injuries. Still, all in all, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
“We lost a couple we probably should’ve won, but we won a couple we probably should’ve lost,” Ribaudo said.
ENMU’s offense was up-and-down, but had several explosive games, particularly at home with four outings of more than 40 points.
“It didn’t quite end up how we planned it,” said sophomore quarterback Wes Wood of Muleshoe, who completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,093 yards and 29 touchdowns. “We played well all year. A couple of plays here and there could’ve changed our record to 8-3 or 9-2.”
ENMU outscored its opponents 345-317 for the season. Senior Tony Valenzuela emerged to give the team a solid ground threat around the middle of the season, while the wide receiver corps led by senior Jessie Poku were productive all season.
“I could tell a huge difference from last year,” said Wood, who will have most of his other main targets back next fall. “I’m excited to see how our team grows. I think we’ll be nothing but better next year.”
Defensively, the Hounds adjusted to their fast-paced NASCAR attack which forced the defense to be on the field more than it wanted at times.
Junior free safety Curtis Jackson said the team got more used to it as the season went.
“Even in practice, everything is fast-paced,” he said. “All season we went through that. You go to the bench and get a sip of water and it was, ‘Defense, you’re back out there.”
Defensive back Tillman Stevens was in on 118 tackles and had six of ENMU’s 13 interceptions. Senior end Matt Kalisch had 8 1/2 of the Hounds’ 23 sacks.
The Hounds graduate seven of their 11 starters on defense, but Jackson said others have gained valuable experience.
“We had players who got more experience with each game,” he said. “Whenever a player needed a break, we always had someone to step in.”
The five Oklahoma schools in the LSC, all in the North, are leaving next season. Thus, the conference will be pared back to a one-division, nine-school group.
“We have a lot to build on here,” Ribaudo said.