ENMU linebacker Royal Bell closes in on Central Oklahoma quarterback Ryan O’Hara as he unloads a pass during last week’s game at Greyhound Stadium. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
It’s been a while since Abilene Christian has found itself in national NCAA Division II rankings, and second-year coach Chris Thomsen probably would just as soon keep it quiet.
The Wildcats (3-0) are ranked 25th in the American Football Coaches Association poll this week, and are also rated No. 17 in collegesportsreport.com, No. 22 by d2football.com and No. 25 by Don Hansen’s Football Gazette. It’s the first time they’ve been ranked since 1997.
Still, Thomsen, a former Abilene Christian player and assistant coach, realizes that when his team faces Eastern New Mexico University (1-2) in today’s 6 p.m. Lone Star Conference South Division opener for both teams, anything goes.
“You can’t get caught up in polls,” Thomsen said. “Last year we had a 2-1 record and Eastern came in here and beat us pretty good (actually, it was 33-30).
“I’ve coached against Eastern New Mexico for a long time. I know that when you go to Eastern New Mexico, you’re fixing to get in a war.”
Eastern has won the last two meetings, but Abilene Christian had a five-game winning streak in the series before that — most of the time when the Greyhounds were the apparent favorite going in.
ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said Thomsen spent time as an assistant coach at Central Arkansas, a team which beat the Hounds in 2004 and 2005, and added that the Wildcats many of the same sets as the Bears.
“They’ve got a good team,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “This is probably the best Abilene Christian team I’ve seen in 10 years. They’re doing the same things they were doing last year; they’re just doing them better.”
While acknowledging that rankings are good for the program’s prestige, Thomsen said they don’t mean much right now.
“You just hope you’re there at the end of the year,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s any big difference for us. One thing about our team is the guys aren’t caught up in them.”
The teams have had one common opponent — Central Oklahoma. Abilene Christian beat the Bronchos 24-18 on Sept. 7, while the Hounds lost 19-16 last week at Blackwater Draw.
“We have to keep that offense off the field,” Ribaudo said. “Defensively, we have to try to get them out of their rhythm.”
Thomsen, whose team is trying for its first 4-0 start in 23 years, expects a tough challenge.
“Coach Ribaudo does a tremendous job of getting guys prepared to play,” he said. “What they get their team focused on is playing at a high level every week.”
Abilene Christian at ENMU
6 p.m. today
At Blackwater Draw
Records: Abilene Christian 3-0, ENMU 1-2 (Lone Star Conference South Divison opener for both teams).
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com.
Coaches: Abilene Christian, Chris Thomsen, 2nd year; ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 2nd year.
Last week: The Wildcats turned a 7-0 halftime lead into a 31-0 rout of Southwestern Oklahoma at Abilene. ENMU lost at home to Central Oklahoma 19-16.
Abilene Christian players to watch: Billy Malone, 6-3, 225, So., QB; Taber Miner, 5-10, 200, So., RB; Chancy Campbell, 5-8, 215, Jr., RB; Marcus Brown, 6-0, 245, So., OLB; Cody Stutts, 6-1, 235, Jr., MLB.
Notes: Abilene Christian won five in a row against the Hounds from 1999-2003 before ENMU posted wins in each of the last two seasons. Of those seven games, only two were decided by more than a touchdown. … The Wildcats last started 3-0 in 1993. … Ribaudo said junior C Gil Shackelford (leg injury) will return to action this week, but senior G Kevin Parker (leg injury) will miss the game. He will be replaced by sophomore Roger DeLeon.
Quotable: “National rankings are nice, but they don’t mean anything right now. They are a credit to our players and assistant coaches for the hard work they’ve put in, but that’s all they mean.” — Thomsen, ,/b>commenting on the school’s Web site.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner