Eastern New Mexico University linebacker Jeff Howard forces a fumble by West Texas A&M receiver Jordan Grant in the second half of Saturday’s game at Greyhound Stadium. Photo by Kevin Wilson
BLACKWATER DRAW — Thanks to their ability to dodge a couple of late bullets, the “Wagon Wheel” is back in the possession of the Eastern New Mexico University Greyhounds after a one-year absence.
ENMU rebounded from a lackluster first half Saturday to take the lead late in the third quarter, then held on in the final moments for a 21-20 Homecoming victory over West Texas A&M in the annual “Wagon Wheel” clash at Greyhound Stadium.
The Hounds (4-3, 3-0 Lone Star Conference South Division) survived as the Buffaloes muffed a couple of late chip-shot field goal opportunities.
Senior free safety Ty Touchstone blocked Jacob Felton’s 20-yard attempt with 3:20 left. After Eastern quarterback Steven Hinson fumbled the ball back at the ENMU 9, the Buffaloes netted two yards on three plays before holder Dalton Bell mishandled the snap on a 24-yard field goal try, then scooped up the ball and eventually threw incomplete on a harried pass near the sideline with 1:10 to go.
WT got a final shot from near midfield with 2.2 seconds left after forcing a punt, but senior quarterback Derek Maupin’s hail mary pass fell incomplete as ENMU claimed its fifth win in the last six years against its rival.
The Hounds, who overcame a 23-point, fourth-quarter deficit last week to beat Angelo State, rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit this time, getting two touchdowns and a Lee Price field goal in the third quarter before holding on down the stretch.
“We knew if we played with heart we’d take it home,” senior defensive tackle Tremaine Johnson said. “We had to come back with heart and character. That’s what makes us do the things we do.”
A look at the stats would have to make WT think it should’ve walked away with the game. The Buffs (1-5, 0-3), behind their West Coast-style passing game, more than doubled the Hounds in first downs (23-11) and mounted a 454-222 edge in total offense that included 35-of-56 passing for 352 yards by Maupin.
“I give Eastern a lot of credit,” WT coach Ronnie Jones said. “It was a hard-fought game by both sides, and Eastern made the plays when they had to.”
The Hounds didn’t take advantage of good field position early, and once the Buffs got it they were quick to get on the board.
WT guard John Shear covered a fumble by teammate Anthony Armstrong in the end zone early in the second quarter for the game’s first points, and the Buffs made it 14-0 on their next possession on Maupin’s 8-yard pass to Tonae Martin.
“We were just trying to stay confident,” Touchstone said of the team’s early struggles. “We knew our offense would come back in the second half. And last week’s win kind of helped us.”
ENMU coach Bud Elliott said he didn’t think his team was out of it at halftime.
“We hadn’t done anything on offense (to that point),” he said. “It was a matter of sucking it up and us starting to play the game.
“We talked about what we could do on offense, and the fact that it made no difference that we could do those things if we didn’t go out and do it.”
ENMU scored on its first three possessions of the third quarter — a 26-yard field goal by Price, a 45-yard bomb from Hinson to Derrick Hunter and a 1-yard run by Jason Tezeno — for a 21-17 lead.
“Eastern did a good job of coming out in the third quarter and taking momentum,” Jones said. “When it got to 17-14, I felt like our kids were starting to panic.”
WT pulled to within a point on Felton’s 40-yard field goal with 13:32 left, capping an 11-play drive, and was moving again when linebacker Jeff Howard forced a fumble by Jordan Grant, recovered by Eastern’s Courage Idemudia at the ENMU 22. The Buffs then forced a punt and began another drive which ended in the blocked field goal.
The Hounds got three sacks against Maupin, who had been sacked only once in WT’s first five games.
“We just decided to turn it loose and go after him,” senior defensive end B.J. Biggar said. “The defensive line played great, the linebackers, secondary, special teams — they just played great (in the second half).”
ENMU 21, West Texas A&M 20
West Texas A&M 0 17 0 3 — 20
ENMU 0 3 18 0 — 21
WT — John Shear fumble recovery in end zone (Jacob Felton kick), 12:54
WT — Tonae Martin 8-yard pass from Derek Maupin (Felton kick), 9:00
ENM — Lee Price 30-yard FG, 4:22
WT — Felton 30-yard FG, :37
ENM — Price 26-yard FG, 9:15
ENM — Derrick Hunter 45-yard pass from Steven Hinson (Price kick), 6:24
ENM — Jason Tezeno 1-yard run (Price kick), 3:09
WT — Felton 40-yard FG, 13:32
A — 2,700
First downs 23 11
Rushes-yards 27-102 42-145
Passing yards 352 77
Total yards 454 222
Comp-att-int 35-57-1 3-10-0
Punting 5-38.0 7-40.3
Fumbles-lost 4-1 3-2
Penalties-yards 12-91 4-30
RUSHING — West Texas A&M, Aubrey Lacy 9-75, Dominique Bibben 12-50, Jordan Grant 1-6, Tony Armstrong 1-0, Shaun Scott-Jones 1-minus 7, Maupin 3-minus 22. Eastern New Mexico, J.J. Jennings 10-45, Steven Hinson 11-35, Tezeno 8-33, Patrick Hemphill 8-28, Christian Coronado 4-4, Fide Davalos 1-0.
PASSING — West Texas A&M, Maupin 35-56-1-352, Dalton Bell 0-1-0-0. Eastern New Mexico, Hinson 3-10-0-77.
RECEIVING — West Texas A&M, T. Martin 8-81, Bibben 6-37, Armstrong 5-57, Charly Martin 4-81, Lacy 4-10, Scott-Jones 3-28, Curtis Snapp 2-31, Patrick Lindsey 2-25, Jordan Grant 1-2. Eastern New Mexico, Hunter 2-78, Coronado 1-minus 1.