BLACKWATER DRAW — Mark Ribaudo says he’s happy with the progress his Eastern New Mexico University football team has shown during spring drills.
To keep it that way, he decided to cut Saturday’s Green & Silver game at Greyhound Stadium a little short.
The first quarter went 12 minutes as scheduled, but the last three were cut to eight minutes each and the fourth quarter ended when the Silver squad scored with 2:09 left in a 35-26 loss to the Green.
Ribaudo said he simply didn’t want to push it anymore, especially with only about a half-dozen offensive linemen healthy enough to play. And the Hounds lost starting free safety Curtis Jackson to a broken ankle during Friday night’s practice at the stadium.
“We saw a lot of good things, starting off with the kicking game,” Ribaudo said. “I think Taylor (Cannon) averaged around 40 yards on punts, and Michael (Cottingham) busted a (52-yard) field goal and had some great kickoffs.”
The Green contingent, featuring primarily the No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense, had the better of it statistically, for what it’s worth. Freshman quarterback Sawyer Cornelius threw for four touchdowns and nearly 300 yards.
Clovis High grad Stefan Mills added a 27-yard TD run for the Green in the third quarter.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Cornelius, who played at Class 2A Bushland High School near Amarillo and backed up starter Wes Wood last season. “I was nervous coming into it; I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it was just a good spring game.”
One of his TD tosses was a 7-yarder to Texico’s Seth Bailey, coming late in the first half after the Green ran a flea-flicker on the previous play with Bailey throwing a 75-yard completion to Michael Matthews. Cornelius also hit Fort Sumner junior-to-be Berry Stinnett on a 79-yard pass play for the game’s first tally.
Cornelius knows his work is cut out behind Wood, who will be a junior and is coming off a productive season in ENMU’s “Air Raid” offense. Still, he said he’s making progress.
“I feel like I’m improving,” Cornelius said. “Coming in from high school, the biggest thing is the mental speed of the game — just knowing where to go before a play opens up.
“Wes is one of my best friends here — he is my best friend here. The position couldn’t be (in the hands of) a better person.”
His one major mistake came when Silver defensive end Tyler Wencka stepped in front of a swing pass late in the third quarter and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
Wencka, a 6-foot-4, 210-pounder from San Antonio who also had two second-half sacks of Cornelius, said it was his first touchdown at any level.
“I thought, ‘He’s not going to throw it,’” Wencka said. “It was my first pick (interception), the first touchdown in my life. I was (feeling) like it was in slow motion.”
Wencka, a backup last fall, is hoping to challenge for a starting spot next season. He, too, thinks spring drills have been good to him.
“I think I’ve improved a lot from last year,” he said. “Today, I set a goal to have a good spring game, and I actually had one.”
The players said they were happy to get out in a game situation for the first time in nearly six months.
“Finally, we got to play in like a game setting, with a clock,” Wencka said. “In our other scrimmages, you never really got that game feeling.”
The Green defense was effective much of the day in containing the potent Hounds attack. Wood broke a 69-yard run on a scramble late in the third quarter for the Silver’s first TD.
“They (No. 1 offense) started making things happen late in the game, especially with Wes scrambling,” Ribaudo said. “I was really happy. Nobody got hurt (during the scrimmage), everybody played hard and everybody played with a lot of enthusiasm.”
The Hounds have a final spring practice on tap for Tuesday.