Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Eric Murray
Eastern New Mexico News 

'Hounds hold tight to victory against UT-Permian Basin

A last minute kick by Falcon’s Giffen to tie the game sailed wide and to the left.

 

October 11, 2017 | View PDF



PORTALES — What looked like a blowout early for the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds ultimately turned into a down-to-the-wire affair in last Saturday’s homecoming game against UT-Permian Basin. The Hounds got out to a 17-0 first-half lead, only to see the Falcons line up for a potential game-tying field goal with just 39 seconds left.

Trailing 20-17, following a strong second-half push, UT-Permian Basin (1-5, 1-3 Lone Star Conference) put together a five play, 51 yard drive to position themselves for a possible game-tying 47-yard field goal, with just 39 seconds left on the clock.

After Eastern (5-1, 4-1) coach Kelley Lee called a timeout to ice Falcons kicker Bailey Giffen, Giffen came out of the timeout looking to possibly force overtime for his underdog Falcons. However, Giffen’s kicked sailed just wide to the left, allowing the ENMU sideline — and Greyhound fans, to let out a collective sigh of relief, as the Hounds hung on for the 20-17 victory.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game going in. UTPB is young, new program, but credit to them. They’re a great team, they battled hard all the way to the end,” ENMU senior nose tackle Dakota Montoya said.

“(We had) a lot of big plays, a lot of players stepped up. With the way things turned out for us, we didn’t execute like we wanted sometimes, but this win right here shows a lot about us.”

Offense

Eastern stormed out of the gate with an opening drive that went seven plays and 73 yards. The 3:43 drive was capped-off by a Wyatt Strand playaction pass on third-and-goal, which found running back Kamal Cass, who turned upfield and fought his way into the end zone from 13 yards out.

The Hounds, however, soon struggled to capitalize on numerous opportunities, despite the great effort on the other side of the ball from the ENMU defense. Cass took a punt back 47 yards after UT-Permian’s first drive, but Eastern could only get to the Falcon 24, before a fourth-and-4 pitch to Tayshaun Gary came up a yard short.

Three drives later, Eastern marched to the Permian 8-yard line, only for Strand to get stripped on the option keeper, which bounced into the end zone and was recovered by the Falcons for the touchback. Ultimately, Strand had three fumbles — two lost, and an interception.

“I felt like, at the point of attack, we were doing really good. I felt like we were dominating the play for four seconds, and then the last two seconds of the play, they were out-efforting us,” Lee said. “They were playing the whole play — and even on plays where we had success, I felt like if we just finished some blocks and stuff like that, we could extend the play and do well.”

While Strand had some ball control issues, he did excel on option keeper plays. In fact, on ENMU’s second possession, Strand cut up inside from his own 8-yard line, bounced out to the far sideline, and then was finally chased down in the open field, but not before gaining 50 yards.

That drive ultimately lasted 10 plays and 79 yards — Eastern’s longest of the night, and resulted in a 30-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0. Strand quickly crossed the century mark with his outstanding first-half running abilities, as he had 119 yards at the half, and 135 overall.

Strand’s mobility caused the Permian defense to stay home, which soon opened up the possibility of getting others involved in the Eastern running game. Cass took advantage of that opportunity on the next drive, as he took a delayed draw on the first play of the drive and burst up the middle, 58 yards to paydirt, which soon put him over 100 yards, as well.

“Really, the way they defend us, they take away our slot running backs, and they make it a quarterback/fullback game,” Lee said. “Early, they were really taking away Kamal. But Wyatt had the good runs and that opened it up and then Kamal got loose.”

As for Cass, he finished with 159 yards on 30 carries. For him, it wasn’t really a concern about whether he’d get a chance to break one for big yardage. Instead, he was willing to let what the Falcons’ defense would give to his Hounds offense, every time around.

“I mean, to be honest, I wasn’t really worried about it. If they were gonna keep giving Wyatt the option — I told him to keep taking it,” Cass said. “As long as they were going to keep giving it to him. But if they didn’t, if it was my opportunity; I would just go ahead and do my thing from there.”

Eastern came into the game averaging 292 rushing yards per contest, but had 287 yards in the first half alone. Ultimately, it appeared that despite the turnovers, ENMU would roll in this game.

However, the offense was held to just 113 total yards — 47 rushing, in the second half. Eastern leads the nation with a time of possession of more than 38 minutes per game, and after possessing the ball for 18:50 in the first half, they were well on their way again.

Strand finished 5-for-10 with 88 yards and a score through the air, as Cass led the way with 54 receiving yards on two catches. “I thought we played a pretty good first-half,” Lee said.

“(But) I thought we didn’t capitalize on some opportunities, we needed to get more points in the red zone. That kind of left a window there, and then we went out and had some turnovers.”

Defense

The Greyhound defense was outstanding in the first half, holding the Falcons to 56 yards on 30 plays.

Permian went three-and-out on its first possession, and then squandered an opportunity on their next drive by dropping a wide-open touchdown pass. The Falcons were without a first down in the first quarter, and possessed the ball for just over 10 minutes in the first-half.

But, the second half proved to be night and day for the Eastern defense. ENMU had endured some coverage issues in the first few games this year, but appeared to be moving in the right direction in recent weeks, including the big road win two weeks ago at West Texas A&M, in the annual Wagon Wheel game.

An Eastern fumble gave the Falcons new life on their second possession of the third quarter, as they started out at the Greyhound 14. After two incomplete passes, quarterback Kameron Mathis connected with Kristian Brown on a back shoulder pass for a 14-yard score. Permian then got great field position again on its next drive, as it started at the Eastern 37, before marching down to the 4-yard line.

The Hounds defense, however, forced a short field goal, cutting their lead down to 17-10. The Falcons would then start off the next drive with a 37-yard completion from Mathis to Brown, and then despite being heavily pressured on the next play, Mathis stood strong in the pocket and threw up a jump ball to Brown, who caught it at the 5-yard line.

UT-Permian Basin would then score on a 1-yard touchdown run soon after, cutting the deficit to 20-17, with 4:01 to go in the third quarter.

“What’s big about them is they’re so young in their program right now, that they don’t care what the score is — they’re focused on themselves,” Montoya said of the Falcons’ second-half surge. “They remind me a lot of us — they focus on themselves, they do what they gotta do and they just continued fighting.”

Despite the struggles to make stops in the third quarter, as Permian Basin went from 56 total yards at half to 200 by the end of the third, the Greyhound defense continued to stay aggressive.

The next three drives for the Falcons led to three three-and-outs. Eastern had three sacks, including back-to-back sacks on the third drive. ENMU finished with seven sacks on the night, led by 1.5 apiece from Brad Hardin and Fe-ao Vunipola, while Montoya had one of his own and caused five quarterback hurries.

“I feel like they couldn’t run their intermediate passing game, and they weren’t able to run the ball,” Lee said. “So, (throwing downfield and dealing with our pass rush) was kind of forced on them — what was left, and they made some plays. (But) it gets into a numbers game there, it’s not high percentage, and I thought our kids battled through and made some plays on the ball there at the end.”

Ultimately, the Falcons took the ball with 1:52 remaining and quickly completed some crucial passes to drive 51 yards and have an opportunity to tie the game with 39 seconds remaining. The kick went wide, however, and the Eastern defense managed to hold on with a fourth quarter shutout.

“We always preach, ‘Everyone, do your 1/11th. There’s 11 players on the field, do your 1/11th, take care of your job, and the big picture’s gonna work out,” Montoya explained. “We all trust the process and it pays off — it shows.”

Special teams

Eastern had another mixed-bag night. Cass took a punt back 47 yards in the early going, but then a Nicholas Little punt was blocked — the third time that’s happened this year.

Little averaged just 27 yards per punt, and did not have a punt longer than 32 yards on the night.

Kicker Bailey Hale, meanwhile, continued to be a bright spot for the Hounds, as all five of his kickoffs were touchbacks, he made both extra pint attempts and knocked in two field goals.

However, he too had a kick blocked. The Falcons stormed through the line and blocked a 27-yarder early in the fourth quarter, keeping the score at 20-17.

A Johnny Smith return midway through the fourth quarter — 56 yards down to the Permian 15 — was negated on a hold.

At the end of the day, however, the biggest play on special teams was the Falcons’ missed 47-yarder at the end.

WHAT’S NEXT: Eastern travels to Tarleton State (4-2, 3-1) for a 1 p.m. MDT Saturday kickoff. Tarleton State lost to previously winless Western New Mexico, 38-25 last weekend. The Texans will be hungry for a bounceback, and Lee knows that Stephenville is a hostile environment every time the Hounds travel there.

“It’s a big, big game. We gotta go on the road, it’s a tough place to play,” Lee said. “But we‘re sitting here at 5-1, with one loss to the No. 2 team (Texas A&M-Commerce) in the country. We’ve been in a lot of tight games, we’re battled-tested. So, we need to go out there and have a great week of preparation and play our best game.”

 

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