By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
BLACKWATER DRAW — Eastern New Mexico University football coach Bud Elliott walked down the runway from the dressing room at Greyhound Stadium for the final time, trying to savor the moment.
Elliott’s 48-year coaching career, the last 11 as ENMU’s head coach — came to an end Saturday as the Greyhounds thumped Western New Mexico 38-10.
Senior quarterback Steven Hinson became the Hounds’ first 1,000-yard rusher in nine seasons, running for one touchdown and throwing for two, and senior running back Jason Tezeno scored twice as the Hounds (6-5) clinched their seventh consecutive winning season.
“We played pretty solid, and I was glad to see us do that,” Elliott said. “I was glad to see Steven get his 1,000 yards.
“We put together some pretty good drives, and the defense was solid. I’m proud of them.”
Elliott, who turns 73 on Christmas Eve, finished his college coaching career with a 205-179-9 record, including 68-49-2 at Eastern. He is the school’s all-time winningest coach.
“I have a little trouble accepting that I’m 72 years old,” Elliott said. “I feel I could still go (on coaching). But I just feel like this is the time (to retire), and turn it over to the younger ones.
“I just loved the challenge, and I love our players and our coaches. I’m going to miss it all.”
The Mustangs (2-8) forced a three-and-out on Eastern’s first series, but the Hounds came back with a nine-play, 85-yard march to take the lead on a 2-yard run by freshman tailback J.J. Jennings.
WNMU got a 28-yard field goal from Kevin Hughes in the final minute of the first quarter, but never scored again until well into the final period.
“They’re good, and they pretty much dominated the game,” Mustangs coach Charley Wade said. “I thought our defense played pretty well; we just couldn’t get our offense going.
“Their offense was hard to stop, and they made some big plays.”
The 5-foot-9, 176 pound Hinson got to 1,000 yards on a 1-yard run early in the fourth quarter. He rushed for 119 yards and completed 10-of-18 passes for 123 yards, finishing the season with 1,006 yards rushing and 1,335 passing.
“I was aware of it (going in), but I tried not to let it get to me,” Hinson said. “It’s been fun playing with these guys. The season didn’t go like we wanted it to, but I’d give up everything to play with these guys.”
Junior wide receiver Derrick Hunter caught five passes for 74 yards, leaving him 12 yards short of the school’s career record of 2,104 yards set by Steve Jackson (1983-84).
Hunter’s last catch was an 18-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Michael Benton with 5 1/2 minutes left.
Eastern finished with 444 yards of total offense, a number which could have been considerably higher except for several holding penalties.
“The penalties hurt us, but we marched up and down the field,” Hinson said. “We spread it around, and everybody played well.”
ENMU’s defense, meantime, limited the Mustangs to 217 total yards, including 33 yards on 33 carries, including sacks.
“It was a real solid effort,” said defensive coordinator Mark Ribaudo, who has been on Elliott’s staff for eight years and is a candidate to replace him. “This group never ‘didn’t’ play hard. Sometimes we didn’t execute, but we never quit. They had a heck of a lot of character.”
Ribaudo said it’s tough to see Elliott retire.
“He’s the best thing that ever happened to me in football,” Ribaudo said. “Coach Elliott is a hall of fame coach. He’s taught me more about everything in football than I think I’ll get in the next 20 years.”