By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Things haven’t gone the way senior free safety Jeremy Hibbler had hoped this season.
He’s been a busy man in Eastern New Mexico University’s secondary — Hibbler leads the Lone Star Conference, by a wide margin, in total tackles with 109. Still, the Greyhounds (1-8, 0-5 LSC South) are in a rebuilding mode and mired in a seven-game losing streak heading into today’s 1 p.m. (MDT) division matchup against Midwestern State at Wichita Falls, Texas.
“We’ve got a young team, but there’s no quit,” said Hibbler, who is from Amarillo and transferred to ENMU from rival West Texas A&M two years ago. “I still wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’d like to win more, but as long as we have fun it’s cool.”
Hibbler’s older brother, Justin, played for the Hounds several years back when they were in the midst of a run of seven consecutive winning seasons. After last season, though, coach Mark Ribaudo decided to overhaul the system and the team is going through growing pains.
“We’re getting better as a team,” Hibbler said. “It takes a while to grasp the (new) concepts, but we’re starting to score a few points and the defense is making more plays.”
The Hounds have actually played better against what is seemingly stiffer competition in the latter part of the season. Last week, they pushed Texas A&M-Kingsville (6-3, 2-2) to the end in a 35-32 loss.
Midwestern State is coming off a 38-33 loss at North Division leader Central Oklahoma that pretty much knocked the Mustangs (5-3, 2-2) out of the division and postseason picture.
“That does make a difference with some teams,” ENMU coach Mark Ribaudo said. “They’ve had the rug pulled out from under them. You always hope that has an affect, but I don’t think (Mustangs) coach (Bill) Maskill will let that happen.”
Turnovers were the main culprit against Central Oklahoma, Maskill said.
“That’s been our emphasis this week,” he said. “We’re (still) playing for a winning season and we’re playing for each other. We can’t worry about what somebody else is going to do.”
Maskill said he’s glad the Hounds got rid of their triple-option, grind-it-out offense, noting that it’s a little easier to prepare for spread attacks like ENMU’s because a lot of teams run it.
“We’ve faced teams that have run similar offenses,” he said. “The things you have to do (to get ready) for the wishbone are totally different.”
ENMU registered its second-highest point total of the season last week with one of its most consistent performances.
“It was one of our better offensive outputs,” Ribaudo said. “Once again, they (ENMU players) battled like heck all the way to the end.”
ENMU at Midwestern State
When: noon (MDT) today in a Lone Star Conference South Division game at Wichita Falls, Texas.
Records: ENMU 1-8 (0-5), Midwestern State 5-3 (2-2).
Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.
On the Net: www.enmusports.com
Coaches: ENMU, Mark Ribaudo, 4th year; Midwestern State, Bill Maskill, 7th year.
Last week: ENMU dropped a 35-32 decision to Texas A&M-Kingsville at Blackwater Draw; Midwestern State lost at Central Oklahoma 38-33.
Last meeting: 2007, the Mustangs laid a 63-7 whipping on ENMU at Blackwater Draw.
Midwestern State players to watch: BeeJay Mathis, 5-9, 185, Jr., RB: Marcus Mathis, 5-7, 215, So., RB; Zack Eskridge, 6-4, 215, So., QB; Lance Calloway, 6-2, 275, Jr., C; Jacob Martin, 6-0, 225, Sr., MLB; Todd Zoglman, 6-2, 285, Sr., DT; Antoine Cumby, 5-10, 155, Jr., CB.
Notes: The Mustangs have won the last six meetings and lead the all-time series 8-4. ENMU’s last win came in 2001, a 36-33 win at Wichita Falls four days after the 9/11 terror attacks. … Eskridge passed for four touchdowns and a season-high 325 yards in last week’s loss. … The setback was Midwestern’s first to an Oklahoma school since 2001 — the year before Maskill took over. The Mustangs had won 21 in a row against foes from the Sooner State. … Midwestern has spent four weeks this season in the Division II top 25. The loss to UCO knocked the Mustangs out of the poll, but they still received two votes — the 31st consecutive time they’ve garnered at least one vote in the national poll. They were ranked as high as No. 17 after a 4-0 start.
Quotable: “We’ve never discussed that, but as poorly as we played we still had a chance to win the ballgame.” — Maskill, on the end of the Mustangs’ 21-game winning streak against Oklahoma schools last week.
— Compiled by Dave Wagner