By Dave Wagner
Josh Lynn admits he didn’t expect his Eastern New Mexico University football team to contend for a Lone Star Conference championship just yet.
The Greyhounds (6-3, 4-1 LSC have won five in a row and are coming off back-to-back wins over NCAA Division II top-15 teams in West Texas A&M and Midwestern State. They can gain a piece of their first title since sharing LSC South Division crowns with Angelo State in 1999 and 2000 with a win in today’s 1 p.m. (MST) regular-season finale at Texas A&M-Commerce.
“What I was thinking was we were a year away,” ENMU’s second-year coach said. “It’s one of those things where we’ve got our kids believing. This is a travel game, though, and if you look at the series over the years, (the team) at home has usually won.”
The Hounds lead the all-time series with the Lions 14-12, but are 11-2 at home compared to 3-10 at Commerce. ENMU and Commerce were picked sixth and seventh, respectively, in the seven-team LSC preseason poll.
ENMU stands one-half game behind Tarleton State (7-2, 5-1), which has already completed its LSC slate. But the Hounds figure to have their work cut out at Commerce (7-3, 2-3), which has also risen out of mediocrity (1-9 last season) under first-year coach Colby Carthel, son of former ENMU and West Texas A&M coach Don Carthel.
Commerce averages 38 points a game and is coming off a 55-21 rout of FBS (formerly Division I-AA) member Houston Baptist.
“This is a championship week for the Greyhounds,” Lynn said. “We have to continue to work; we can’t let up on the gas. It’s just as important (as the last two games). We’ve put ourselves in this position.”
Lynn said it’s easy to see Don Carthel’s influence on his son. “What they’re doing is identical to what West Texas A&M was doing (under the elder Carthel),” he said.
The younger Carthel could not be reached for comment this week.
While it’s unlikely that either team will make the NCAA Division II playoffs with three losses, both have hopes of a berth representing the LSC in the first Heart of Texas Bowl, scheduled for 6 p.m. (MST) on Dec. 7 at Copperas Cove, Texas.
Lynn believes if unranked Tarleton State beats 20th-ranked Gulf South Conference member North Alabama (7-2) at home today, it would open the door for the Hounds to get the bowl bid.
WT (8-2, 3-2) and MSU (7-2, 3-2) meet today in Wichita Falls, Texas, with a possible playoff berth at stake. If the Hounds lose, they would finish in a tie for second with the winner of that game, but because of head-to-head wins over both they are hopeful to be selected for the bowl game.
A Tarleton loss, on the other hand, probably drops the Texans out of the playoff picture and, with a head-to-head win over ENMU, more likely to get the bowl berth.
ENMU at Texas A&M-Commerce
1 p.m. today at Commerce, Texas
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9
Records: ENMU 6-3, 4-1 Lone Star Conference. Texas A&M-Commerce 7-3, 2-3
Coaches: ENMU, Josh Lynn, 2nd year, 9-10; Texas A&M-Commerce, Colby Carthel, 1st year, 7-3.
Last meeting: 2012, ENMU edged the Lions 7-3 at Blackwater Draw.
Last week: The Hounds beat then-No. 12 Midwestern State 40-21 at Blackwater Draw, ending an 11-game losing streak to the Mustangs. Commerce rolled over Houston Baptist 55-21 at home.
Commerce players to watch: Harrison Stewart, 6-5, 245, Jr., QB; Vernon Johnson, 6-1, 190, Jr., WR; Charles Tuaau, 6-5, 310, Jr., NT; Tevin Moore, 6-1, 260, Sr., DE; Saul Martinez, 5-9, 190, Jr, PK.
Notes: When ENMU held Midwestern scoreless in the first quarter last Saturday, it was the first time the Mustangs had failed to score in a period since their season opener — covering 29 quarters. The Hounds also blanked MSU in the final stanza. … ENMU has won seven of the last nine games against the Lions, with the home team winning each of the last five. … The Hounds have outscored their opponents 165-67 in the second half. … Martinez is 47-of-47 on PAT kicks and 11-of-15 on field goals this season. … After 10 weeks of play, LSC teams have gone 19-11 on the road, just 17-12 at home. … ENMU’s winning streak equals its longest since 2006-07. The last time the Hounds had a longer win streak was 1998, when they opened 7-0. … ENMU has clinched its first winning season since 2004; Commerce has clinched its first winning season since 2001. … Commerce is on a pace to set a team scoring record with 382 points (38.2 average). The record is 398 (36.2 ppg) by the 1990 squad. … Freshman PK Mitchell Cox is tied for the ENMU team lead in special teams tackles, with six. Freshman P Anthony Torres has placed 12 of his 40 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line.
Quotable: “I felt pretty good going in and I thought we’ve give them a game, but I didn’t see that coming.” — Lynn, on ENMU’s surprising rout of MSU last week.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner