CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks The Greyhound offensive line makes a big hole for junior quarterback Wesley Wood to run though on a sneak in the first quarter against New Mexico Highlands University.
BLACKWATER DRAW – On a night of high winds, higher penalty counts and a big lead matched by an equally large comeback, the New Mexico Highlands Cowboys took a 43-36 overtime win Saturday night at Greyhound Stadium in the season opener for both teams.
The visiting Cowboys rolled out 317 yards of offense in the second half to rally back from a 28-0 halftime deficit, evening matters with Jequerie Proctor’s 2-point conversion pass to Kevon Williams with 2:23 left in regulation.
Jequerie Proctor scored on a 2-yard run, and the Cowboy defense held off the ensuing Greyhound drive.
The comeback happened despite 232 yards in Highlands penalties, largely due to a Cowboy offense that abandoned an unsuccessful passing game early and relied on a 71-carry, 331-yard rushing night bouyed by Proctor and Jermaine Holmes. Proctor carried 26 times for 159 yards, and Holmes added 110 yards on 27 carries.
The Cowboys, with plenty of transfers under first-year coach Eric Young, had to do a lot of shuffling with players ruled ineligible last week, including regular kicker Zach Tapia and several starting receivers.
“Our passing was affected,” Young said. “Our running game is really solid. We have two solid backs. That’s what we had to do, and you go with what’s working for you.”
On the Greyhound side, nothing worked in the second half, including a special teams performance with three missed extra points and a 32-yard field goal that would have given Eastern an 11-point lead with 4:14 left.
“It’s really super disappointing,” Greyhound coach Mark Ribaudo said. “I thought last week we were a better team.
“The defense was terrible and the offense wasn’t good either.”
The Greyhounds couldn’t have asked for a better start, making the game’s first seven catches – two of them by Greyhound defenders to set up short touchdowns.
Defensive tackle Ian Ogando had the first, setting up a 3-yard touchdown pass from Wes Wood to Darian Dale. Keith Davis’ pick on a second-down Cowboys play gave the Greyhounds an 18-yard field, and Wood scored on a 1-yard keeper 5:15 into the contest.
Six minutes later, little had changed for a stagnant Cowboys offense still learning a new system. After 11 minutes, Highlands had collected just 11 yards on offense.
Eastern made it 28-0 late in the second, as Wood scored on a 2-yard keeper to finish a seven-play drive bolstered by a 17-yard screen pass to Stefan Mills.
By that time, the wind had picked up, affecting the kicking games for both teams.
Then after halftime, the Cowboys’ game picked up with a pair of touchdowns in a 47-second span. After a 13-yard touchdown pass from Lewis to Niko Aumua, Highlands scored again on teamwork when Jordan Campbell picked off Wood in Cowboy territory and pitched it to Abdul Kanneh, who finished off the play by going 54 yards untouched.
Later in the third, the Cowboys inched closer, with Lewis connecting with Deandre Green on a 43-yard toss. But the Greyhounds responded with an eight-play, 60-yard drive aided by a pair of Cowboy penalties and a 12-yard Seth Bailey reception. Stefan Mills finished the drive with a 1-yard drive and caught the two-point conversion.
Jermaine Holmes answered with a 15-yard touchdown run for the Cowboys, and the Cowboys held ENMU on defense to set up the game-tying drive.
The Greyhounds travel to San Antonio Saturday to open their Lone Star Conference season against Incarnate Word. With injuries already mounting from a long game, Ribaudo’s hoping the squad will find some focus over the week.
“It’s going to be a long season (if we don’t),” Ribaudo said. “We’ve got a lot of things we’re going to have to fix. We’ll see if we can fix them.”