ENMU cornerback Michael Fields cuts the legs out from under Central Oklahoma’s KerryJohnson (21) during Saturday’s game at Greyhound Stadium. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
BLACKWATER DRAW — So close, but yet so far.
Central Oklahoma quarterback Ryan O’Hara led a 12-play, 879-yard drive in the final three minutes, throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marcellus Parker with 26 seconds left to boost the Bronchos to a 19-16 win over Eastern New Mexico University on Saturday night at Greyhound Stadium.
O’Hara went 8-of-11 for 92 yards on the drive. Until then, ENMU’s defense had limited the Bronchos (2-2) to just two second-half first downs.
O’Hara went 19-of-30 for 228 yards, and also hit Parker on a 69-yard scoring pass late in the half.
“They’ve got a great team,” Bronchos coach Chuck Langston said of ENMU. “But I’m proud of our kids, to go on the road and do that. They could’ve laid down, but they didn’t.”
Junior quarterback Michael Benton rushed for 171 yards and both TDs for ENMU (1-2). He had 107 yards on eight carries in the third quarter alone as the Hounds erased a 12-7 halftime deficit.
“It was a tough loss,” said Benton, who was 3-of-10 through the air for 45 yards. “We made mistakes on both sides (of the ball), but the team left everything on the field.”
Benton led the Hounds on a four-play, 80-yard drive following the second half kickoff. He carried on three of the plays for 59 yards, including a 7-yard TD run with less than two minutes gone.
Benton directed another drive that carried from the ENMU 37 to the Bronchos’ 4, but he was hit from behind trying to make an option pitch and Central Oklahoma’s Burnell Smith recovered the fumble at the 13.
On ENMU’s next opportunity, Benton marched the team from his own 42 to the Central Oklahoma 10 before Lee Price’s 27-yard field goal in the first minute of the final quarter made it 16-12.
“I thought we played a great second half,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “We had two offensive linemen (guard Kevin Parker and center Gil Shackelford who went down (with injuries) in the first half, and that usually spells disaster.
“It just came down to that last drive; they made some great throws and some great catches. They made the plays and we didn’t.”
Central Oklahoma had consecutive three-and-outs early in the final period and the Hounds, starting at their own 11, mounted a drive that reached midfield.
A holding penalty on the next play nullified an 11-yard run for a first down by Benton, and Central Oklahoma eventually forced a punt. The Bronchos began their game-winning drive after Price’s 54-yard kick rolled dead at the 11.
The Bronchos went three-and-out following the opening kickoff, but got the ball back and put together a 73-yard ,17-play march that ended in Jason Dixon’s 19-yard field goal in the final minute of the quarter.
The Bronchos then converted a short punt into another field goal on their next possession. Dixon booted a 32-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead with 10:26 left in the half.
The Hounds went three-and-out on their first three possession before finally coming to life. Benton got their first first down of the game with an 11-yard run to the ENMU 38 on third-and-3 situation with 8:24 left in the half.
Benton then hit J.T. Thompson for 15 yards and Fide Davalos for nine — his first two passes of the game. A 21-yard completeion to Mark Perea gave the Hounds their fifth first down of the drive and put the ball at the Central Oklahoma 5.
On the next play, Benton kept right and scooted into the corner of the end zone. Price tacked on the PAT to put the Hounds in front 7-6 with 4:15 left in the half.
It took the Bronchos three plays to take the lead back.
After an incompletion and a 1-yard loss by Maurice Little, O’Hara found Parker wide-open todn the left sideline for the go-ahead score. A 2-point conversion pass failed, keeping the score 12-7 with 2:56 left.
Central Oklahoma nearly extended its lead on the final play of the half when, with ENMU at the Bronchos’ 45, Benton tried to swing a pass out to Kyle Harris in the left flat. Linebacker Tyler Harris picked off the floater and wasn’t brought down until he reached the ENMU 20 as the clock ran out.