By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
With four of their six rivals in the Lone Star Conference South Division ranked in the top 25 nationally, virtually every game is a major challenge for the Eastern New Mexico University football team.
That’s what helps make last week’s 38-35 loss at Texas A&M-Kingsville a little hard to swallow.
The Greyhounds entered South play 4-0, but have dropped five in a row in the division. They will finish their South slate today with a 2 p.m. game against Midwestern State (7-2, 2-2 South) at Blackwater Draw.
The Mustangs are ranked 21st this week in the American Football Coaches Association poll.
“It’s a new week, a new opponent,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “Our kids are pretty resilient. It’s an opportunity to knock off a nationally ranked team.”
Midwestern, though, will certainly provide a stern challenge. The Mustangs defeated Kingsville 73-6 two weeks ago, and are among the top teams in the LSC in both offense and defense.
“They look pretty good,” senior defensive end Kyle Wilson said. “But if we play well on defense, I think we can beat them.”
Ribaudo and Wilson both said the Hounds simply didn’t play well on defense against Kingsville, a team which came in struggling with a 1-7 record. They certainly did enough on offense.
“We should’ve had that game,” said Wilson, who currently is tied for third in the conference in sacks with six. “We just made too many mistakes on defense.
“We pretty much hurt ourselves and let them off the hook.”
Mustangs coach Bill Maskill, whose team probably has to beat ENMU and 19th-ranked Abilene Christian next week at home to earn a playoff berth, said his team has to focus on the task at hand.
“Right now, we’re on the outside looking in,” he said of the playoff race. “It’s important from our perspective that we’re ready to go.
“We can’t control the polls, or other teams. What we can control is our attitude and effort, and what we do on a weekly basis.”
He said preparing for the Hounds is always a challenge because of their style.
“They’ve got some tools to work with, no question about it,” Maskill said.
Quarterbacks Michael Benton of ENMU and Daniel Polk of Midwestern are ranked second and sixth, respectively, in rushing in the LSC.
Polk has also become a competent passer for the Mustangs, throwing for more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
“We’ve got to try to find a way to handle Polk,” Ribaudo said. “He’s a triple threat. He can run the ball, he can scramble so you have to be careful with the kind of pressure you show him, and he can beat you with his arm.”
Wilson said the Hounds continue to put out maximum effort every week.
“We still practice hard and watch a lot of film,” he said. “Hopefully, we can carry our skills from the practice field to the game this week.”
Midwestern State at ENMU
When: 2 p.m. today in a Lone Star Conference South Division game at Blackwater Draw.
Records: Midwestern State 7-2 (2-2 South), ENMU 4-5 (0-5).
Last week: Midwestern State rolled to a 41-19 road win over North foe Southeastern Oklahoma in a crossover game. ENMU dropped a 38-35 decision at Texas A&M-Kingsville.
Radio: KSEL-FM 95.3.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com
Coaches: Midwestern State, Bill Maskill, 6th year; Eastern New Mexico, Mark Ribaudo, 3rd year.
Last meeting: 2006, the Mustangs handed ENMU a 29-19 setback at Wichita Falls, Texas.
Midwestern State players to watch: Daniel Polk, 6-2, 202, Sr., QB; DelJuan Lee, 5-10, 168, Sr., WR; B.J. Mathis, 6-1, 185, Jr., RB/WR; Marcus Mathis, 5-7, 215, Fr., RB; Ryan Craven, 5-11, 165, Fr., FS; Kellen Belcher, 6-2, 290, Jr. DT.
Notes: Midwestern State leads the all-time series 7-4, winning the last five. The Greyhounds’ most recent victory came at Wichita Falls, a 36-33 verdict on Sept. 15, 2001 — four days after 9/11. … Polk has completed 66 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 240 attempts. He also leads the team in rushing with 727 yards and has scored 16 TDs. … Maskell has compiled a 45-19 record at the school. … The Mustangs were No. 21 in this week’s American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II rankings, their 15th consecutive appearance in the poll dating to last season. Other South teams in the Top 25 are West Texas A&M (No. 4), Tarleton State (No. 16) and Abilene Christian (No. 19). … The Mustangs are outscoring opponents roughly 42-17 this season. Their losses were to WT (25-20) and Tarleton (44-32). They end the regular season next week at home against Abilene Christian.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner