BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico University’s killer stretch of games got off to a tough start Saturday.
No. 10 Abilene Christian, the first of four consecutive ranked opponents for the Greyhounds, fell behind early, but rebounded quickly to pretty much dominate the rest of the way en route to a 36-7 Lone Star Conference victory at Greyhound Stadium in ENMU’s homecoming game.
Junior quarterback Mitchell Gale threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns, and the Hounds (2-4, 0-3 LSC) more than had their hands full trying to stop the Wildcats’ potent attack.
“They were just too good,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “We had so many things we did good, but they’re such a good team.”
The Hounds moved the ball reasonably well at times against the Wildcats (4-1, 3-0), but drives of 11 and 18 plays came up empty in the red zone — the former when senior placekicker Taylor Cannon was wide right on a 25-yard field goal midway through the second quarter with ACU leading 14-7.
ENMU’s defense had Abilene Christian in several third-and-long situations, but often couldn’t keep the Wildcats from converting.
“You’ve got to be able to get off the field,” Ribaudo said. “You’ve got to make everything work against this team.”
Still, he was far from displeased.
“We played better than we did against (New Mexico) Highlands (a season-opening 43-36 overtime loss), Incarnate Word (a 41-28 loss) and (Oklahoma) Panhandle (State, a 28-19 win),” Ribaudo said. “We played as good as we did against Tarleton (State, a 34-28 setback) and Angelo (State, a 23-21 road win last week).
“We’re playing better football, but next week we play a team that’s better than this (Northwest Missouri State), and then we have two more (West Texas A&M and Midwestern State.).”
Ribaudo said injuries have hurt, noting the Hounds lost senior defensive lineman Aaron Vaughn (torn bicep) and sophomore running back De’Coreyon Thomas (possible concussion) in Saturday’s game.
“We’re thin as it is,” he said. “We can’t keep losing guys.”
ENMU marched the opening kickoff across midfield before quarterback Wes Wood’s fourth-down, quick-kick punt went out of bounds at the ACU 4. After a three-and-out, Wood drove the Hounds 47 yards in four plays with sophomore wide-out Michael Matthews catching an 8-yard TD pass.
ACU came right back, though, storming 57 yards in just five plays and tying it on Gale’s 9-yard pass to Taylor Gabriel. An 87-yard, 12-play drive ended in Gale’s 2-yard TD toss to Ben Gibbs early in the second period, putting the Wildcats in front for good.
ACU, which had only a 240-200 margin in total yardage in the first half, held the Hounds to 88 yards after halftime.
“Our defense did a good job of clamping down in the second half,” Wildcats coach Chris Thomsen said. “I’m proud of our offensive group for staying with it. Mitchell did a good job of protecting the ball.”
An interception of Wood by ACU’s Justin Stephens early in the third period set the Wildcats up on the ENMU 14. Three plays later, Gale hit wide receiver Darrell Cantu-Harkless on a 13-yard scoring play to make it 27-7 and put it pretty much out of reach.
“That was a big play,” Thomsen said of the pick. “Any time you can force a turnover down there, it’s big.”