By Dave Wagner
CMI sports writer
BLACKWATER DRAW — Appearing down and out well into the third quarter, Eastern New Mexico University’s football team put together a spirited comeback Saturday night, only to have it fall short.
Junior running back Dominique Ferrell capped a 10-play, 64-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:21 left, and New Mexico Highlands held on for a 31-28 victory over the Greyhounds after blowing a 17-point, third-quarter lead in the season opener for both teams at Greyhound Stadium.
ENMU had two late scoring opportunities, including one in the closing seconds after a 65-yard pass-and-run play from junior quarterback Jeremy Buurma to junior running back Jordan Wells moved the ball from the Hounds’ 13 to the NMHU 22 with 13 seconds left.
Buurma spiked the ball on the next play, but he was chased out of the pocket and his last-ditch dumpoff to running back Andrew Lopez resulted in a six-yard loss as time expired.
“It turned into a heck of a game,” Highlands coach Eric Young said. “I thought early we had a chance to separate ourselves (in the score), but they (Hounds) kept fighting.”
Junior quarterback Emmnuel Lewis ran for one touchdown and threw for another, and the Cowboys opened a 24-7 lead when junior kicker Zach Tapia booted a 54-yard field goal into the wind with 11:32 to go in the third quarter.
“I don’t know if our guys relaxed or what (at that point),” Young said. “I felt we really needed to get one more touchdown on the board (to be safe), but it didn’t happen.”
As it turned out, Tapia’s field goal provided the difference in the game.
“We didn’t think he’d make it; we actually sent somebody back for a return,” ENMU coach Josh Lynn said. “That was a great kick by that kid.”
ENMU seemed a bit outmanned at times by the Cowboys, but finished with a 21-16 edge in first downs and a 415-393 margin in total offense. The Hounds struggled for much of the first half, but pulled to 14-7 late in the second period when sophomore kicker Anthony Torres threw an 18-yard scoring pass off a fake field goal to tight end Evan Tooley, who sprawled into the end zone as he picked the ball off the ground.
Highlands countered with a five-play, 74-yard drive capped by Young’s 31-yard scramble into the end zone with seven seconds left.
“The first half was the game — the first quarter was really the game,” Lynn said. “The first thing we did was opened the game with a fumble.”
Wells lost the ball on the game’s first play from scrimmage and NMHU linebacker Jared Koster recovered at the ENMU 25. Tapia, though, eventually missed wide left on a 38-yard field goal try.
Ferrell’s 3-yard run late in the quarter and a 10-yard pass from Lewis to Jermaine McKenzie in the second period put the Cowboys in front 14-0. The Hounds then drove to the Highlands 13, were set back by a delay-of-game penalty and then pulled one out of their bag of tricks with the fake field goal.
“We needed something,” Lynn said in explaining the call. “The offense was struggling, and we had to change momentum.”
Freshman cornerback Darrelyn McCloud began the comeback, picking off a Lewis pass in the left flat and returning it 33 yards for a score midway through the third quarter. Then junior fullback Cameron Mikell pulled the Hounds to 24-21, going around left end for a 36-yard TD on the first play of the final stanza.
Highlands followed by going three-and-out twice, and the Cowboys were assessed a personal foul penalty for their hit on ENMU punt returner Kevin Reaves, moving the ball to the NMHU 45. On the next play, Lopez burst through the left side and went virtually untouched to put ENMU in front for the first time at 28-24 with 10:44 to go.