Former Floyd six-man standout scored a pair of touchdowns in his first varsity start for the Hounds. (Staff photo by Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
BLACKWATER DRAW — If it could, Eastern New Mexico University would take a mulligan on the first 25 minutes or so of Saturday night’s season opener against Central Arkansas.
The Greyhounds struggled on offense for most of the first half, found themselves in a 21-point hole just before halftime, and then came up short with a spirited rally in a 38-31 loss to the Bears at Greyhound Stadium.
Central Arkansas senior quarterback Zak Clark completed 26 of 37 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and made just enough plays to keep the Bears in control after the Hounds closed to within a touchdown three times in the second half.
“It was a war, no doubt about that,” Central Arkansas coach Clint Conque said. “It was a tough game on the road against a good football team, but we found a way to win it.”
Senior quarterback Steven Hinson completed 18 of 34 passes for 271 yards, and directed ENMU on four 80-yard touchdown drives. Sophomore wide receiver Derrick Hunter caught nine passes for 161 yards, including a spectacular 34-yard TD reception in traffic with seven seconds left in the half that got the Hounds on the board.
“He (Hunter) just makes plays,” ENMU coach Bud Elliott said. “I thought Steve Hinson did a good job, and (running back) Fide Davalos had a good game.”
Conque was also impressed with Hinson and Hunter.
“The quarterback is a Houdini, and the receiver is a great player,” he said. “I’d take those two on my team any day.”
The loss was Eastern’s fourth in a row dating to last season, and prevented Elliott from getting his 200th career win as a college coach.
“It was a great effort, just an unbelievable effort by our football team,” he said. “We knew (Clark) was really good, but we lost the ballgame in the first half when we couldn’t settle down on offense.”
Davalos, a junior from Floyd who was getting his first career start in the ENMU backfield, scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter and on a 9-yard pass from Hinson with 1:20 left in the game. Central Arkansas recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
“We had too many penalties (early),” Davalos said. “Finally we got our offense going and we played a lot better.
“We had a few things that didn’t go our way tonight, but we’ll get those straightened out.”
ENMU stopped the Bears on their first three possessions before Clark’s West Coast-style offense got untracked late in the first quarter. UCA went 83 yards in eight plays, scoring with under a minute left in the period on a 44-yard pass play from Clark to running back Kentrel Rogers.
The Bears opened a 21-0 lead with 4 1/2 minutes to go in the half on a 6-yard quarterback draw by Clark. After an exchange of punts, Hinson marched the Hounds 80 yards to their first score with under 90 seconds left in the half.
Davalos ran six yards for one first down and caught a 20-yard pass from Hinson for another. Hinson hit Hunter for a 17-yard gain before rolling right and finding Hunter in the back of the end zone on a third-and-10 play.
ENMU closed the game to 21-14 by taking the second-half kickoff and driving 80 yards. Hinson capped the drive with a 1-yard keeper. But a roughing-the-passer penalty kept UCA’s next possession alive and, after a 40-yard completion from Clark to Anthony Lambkin, Rogers rambled 16 yards over right tackle for a touchdown and a 28-14 lead.