Hounds rev up offense

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks ENMU freshman receiver Matt Handler is bought down by a Southwestern Oklahoma defender for a 19-yard gain during the second quarter of Saturday’s game at Blackwater Draw.

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

BLACKWATER DRAW — For most of a quarter Saturday night, Eastern New Mexico University’s new “air raid” offense was stuck in a holding pattern.

Fortunately, the defense bailed the Greyhounds out, holding Southwestern Oklahoma to a field goal on the Bulldogs’ first three possessions, all of which started in ENMU territory.

Then sophomore quarterback Cory Baker began to find the range, completing 34-of-46 passes — two completions short of the school record set by Kevin Kott in 1984 — for 278 yards and three touchdowns as the Hounds pulled away to a 37-24 Lone Star Conference crossover win at Greyhound Stadium.

Getting his first start, Baker spread his completions among seven receivers as the Hounds evened their record at 1-1 in their home opener.

“It was just nerves,” Baker said of the team’s slow start. “You’ve just got to get those butterflies out.

“We just had to keep playing; you never know how it’s going to go. You can score in one play or 20.”

On ENMU’s fourth possession, Baker went 3-for-3 for 60 yards on a four-play, 76-yard scoring march that ended with an 18-yard TD toss to freshman Matt Handler. The Hounds added a two-point conversion off a fake kick for an 8-3 lead they would not relinquish.

Adam Richards booted field goals of 37 and 40 yards in the second quarter before the teams exchanged three touchdowns in a wild 45-second stretch late in the half, leaving the Hounds in front 21-17.

The Hounds scored the first 16 points of the second half to put the game out of reach.

“I’m so proud of this offense and what we’ve done in a week,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “It’s night and day compared to last week (a 16-9 loss at Southern Nazarene).

“We’re not even close to where we want to be, but we’re a heck of a lot closer.”

ENMU’s defense made life tough on Bulldogs quarterback Steve Day, who threw for 292 yards and two scores. He completed 21-of-56 passes and was sacked three times.

Southwestern had some drops and Day missed a few receivers, but the Hounds generally had good pass coverage.

“We made a few mental mistakes, but after losing last week we kind of had a ‘man-up’, one-on-one talk,” said senior free safety Jeremy Hibbler, who was in on 16 tackles and was credited with two pass break-ups. “They missed a few open receivers, but for the most part we played pretty good. We’ve got a lot of young players in the secondary, except for (junior Mark) Patterson and me.”

Southwestern (1-1), which beat Northwestern Oklahoma last week, thought it left some points on the field.

“Too many drops, too many penalties (nine for 73 yards),” Bulldogs coach Ryan Held said. “We had too many busted coverages on defense.

“We just kept Eastern in it (early), and they got hope. We had our chance to knock Eastern out and we didn’t, and they made us pay for it.”