Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

ENMU can't recover from first-half hole

 

September 12, 2018

Eric Murray

Colorado Mesa's Antonio Clark recovers a Paul Terry fumble in the second quarter of Saturday's game at Greyhound Stadium.

PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico’s 2018 home football opener proved to be a mirror image of the previous week, as untimely penalties and a lack of execution cost the Greyhounds on Saturday night. The Hounds got themselves into a 31-0 hole by halftime, as a strong second half could not save them in a 34-21 defeat at the hands of 25th-ranked Colorado Mesa.

“We just can’t get out of our own way,” ENMU coach Kelley Lee explained. “Penalties — we had two big plays called back. It ends up being a two-touchdown game and we couldn’t get any rhythm.

“It was very similar to last week (31-14 loss at Missouri S&T). Finally, when we don’t have penalties in the second half, it was like last week — we go right down and score. But, we’ve got to fix that. There’s no other answer but to get it fixed.”

Eastern’s (0-2) defense allowed Colorado Mesa (2-0) to convert on each of its first five third down attempts, and 6-of-8 in the first half, overall. The Mavericks scored on five of its seven first-half possessions.

For all of the negativity surrounding the opening half of play, however, the Hounds managed to at least get right back in it in the second half. ENMU scored 21 points off of three rushing touchdowns, and trailed by the deciding 34-21 score with 7:18 still left to play. In the end, however, Mesa finished like it started. The Mavericks had a pair of third-down conversions on their final drive to run out the remaining seven-plus minutes of play.

While Lee was pleased with his team’s ability to outscore the Mavericks, 21-3, in the second half, a complete game is still sorely lacking. To that point, Lee says that his team needs to learn how to play all four quarters.

“We gotta be more disciplined. We gotta be more poised in the face of adversity,” he said. “I think people are pressing to make things happen, and I think that’s sometimes making things worse. We gotta do our job.”

“Do your job” was the motto the Greyhounds had coming into the week, but in the end, they ended the week with some unfinished business. Eastern will host No. 1-ranked Texas A&M-Commerce at Greyhound Stadium next Saturday night, in the Hounds’ Lone Star Conference opener. Commerce is the defending Division II national champions, who defeated ENMU, 51-22, last September.

Offense

As Lee mentioned, moving the ball wasn’t the issue for his offense. However, finishing drives certainly was. Choppy play would probably be the best way to describe the Greyhounds’ offense in the opening half, and especially their first drive of the game.

Mesa opened up with a scoring drive on its first possession, while ENMU came out with a couple of nice Paul Terry runs to begin its first drive. But, a false start and a personal foul for a chop block quickly sent the Greyhounds backwards, forcing a punt after six plays.

The Greyhounds’ next drive looked even more promising, as Tayshaun Gary opened things up with an 11-yard run for a first down. Two plays later, quarterback Wyatt Strand stepped up and fired a deep pass to a wide-open Johnny Smith, who took it to the house 73 yards for the score. But, an ineligible man downfield was called on a Greyhound lineman, as Strand looked like he was initially going to take off and run — which likely threw off the offending player. That drive also ended in a punt.

Eastern’s third drive continued the choppy play theme, as yet another chop block was called on the Hounds, which put them all the way back at their own 7-yard line. On second-and-14, Strand got out of a sack, and found Smith open over the middle, only to see Smith drop the pass — which would have likely resulted in a first down. Mistakes continued to pile up from there, to finish off the first half of play.

Terry fumbled the ball away on the next possession, while Eastern couldn’t convert on a fourth-and-2 from its own 49 on the drive following that. Finally, Strand thought he had a free play, late in the first half, only for it to actually be a holding penalty on Eastern. Strand pulled the trigger on the assumed free play and was picked off by Nic Smith, who stepped in front of it and returned it the Greyhound 7 with just six seconds to play in the half. Two plays later, Mesa ended the half with a chip shot field goal to extend the lead to 31-0.

The turnover theme would then continue into the third quarter, with Eastern’s first possession of the second half. Strand fired a deep out route into double coverage along the near-sideline, resulting in an Antonio Clark interception.

“We were kind of pressing there,” Lee explained of that turnover stretch. “We’re trying to get a quick score, trying to make something happen. Both times maybe just trying to do a little too much.”

Eastern, however, flipped a switch, thereafter. The Hounds put together a drive that was characteristic of last season, as they drove 82 yards in 14 plays and ate up almost six-and-a-half minutes of clock.

Terry rushed for 51 yards on the drive, including a 13-yard run on third-and-2 from the CMU 26. Gary, meanwhile, finished off the drive by taking a pitch on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line,

racing to the pylon to sneak past defenders and in for the score.

More of the same on the next possession resulted in Strand scrambling up the middle, on third-and-1 from his own 44. He quickly cut down to the near-sideline, and won a foot race to paydirt for the score. All of a sudden, it was a 31-14 game with 2:29 to play in the third quarter.

The next drive featured another missed opportunity, reminiscent of the first half. Strand fired deep to Russell Montoya on the first play, but as he was coming down with it, CMU’s D’Angelo Lindsey broke it up at the last possible second. However, on third-and-12 from his own 40, Strand got another shot to go down field, but the tightly-covered pass to Nathan Betts couldn’t be hauled-in. Betts had to leave his feet, similar to the Montoya play, and he may have landed on the ball when he hit the ground.

At any rate, that took a little air out of ENMU’s offense, as the possessions began to wind down. Eastern would score on what would end up being its final drive of the night. Terry sprinted up the middle from 18 yards out to cut the deficit to 13. But, CMU’s aforementioned 7:17 drive to end the contest meant no more chances for the Hounds’ offense to do their thing.

As previously established, Saturday proved to really be a tale of two halves for both sides of the ball, especially for the ENMU offense.

Strand finished 3-for-11 with 18 yards and two picks, while adding 84 yards on just nine carries (9.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown on the ground. Terry rushed for 145 yards, while Gary added 47 of his own. ENMU was outgained by CMU, 455-345, in total yardage on the night.

“We were constantly in second-and-25, or first-and-25. Until we get that cleaned up — our style of offense — it’s very hard. We’re built to stay on schedule, and we didn’t do it in the first half,” Lee explained.

“(In the second half) I really just think it was not getting penalties, not making those mistakes. It wasn’t like, in the first half, we weren’t getting yards on our plays. (But a) 20-yard run doesn’t count, an 80-yard touchdown doesn’t count. Now, you get seven or eight yards, but you don’t make the first down.”

Defense

The Greyhound defense wasn’t all that bad in the first half, but those pesky third downs killed them. Colorado Mesa’s opening drive quickly put the Mavericks in a third-and-12 situation from their own 14. Quarterback Eystin Salum, however, scrambled 16 yards to move the sticks.

Salum then completed a 39-yard pass to Peter Anderson, who was wide-open, and got down to the Eastern 34. Running back Jonathan Beverly ended the drive, four plays later, with a 21-yard touchdown run. On the play, he sprung up the middle, untouched, and then broke a tackle inside the 10, before rumbling into the end zone.

Mesa converted a pair of third downs on its second drive. Lake Makakona converted a third-and-short by rushing for two yards, while converting another third-and-1, seven plays later. This time around, however, Makakona ran it in from 15 yards out. He took the handoff up the middle, but with the hole completely plugged, he bounced it outside, where no Greyhounds could be found.

The third drive featured another Makakona conversion, as he rushed for 11 yards on third-and-10 from his own 20. ENMU, however, successfully forced a punt.

But, Salum would go on to convert a third-and-3 on the next drive, but once again, the Greyhound defense would force a punt. This, however, would not continue on CMU’s possession after that. Salum found Anderson on another deep ball, connecting with him in the end zone from 37 yards out, extending the lead to 21-0.

Mesa then started at midfield, following an ENMU turnover on downs. Nine plays and 3:06 later, Makakona punched it in from four yards out to make it 28-0, with 54 seconds left in the half.

“The quarterback did a really good job — I thought he played really well tonight,” Lee said of Salum. “He’s a good player, and he’s especially good on third downs. He bought time, he found open guys. We got to do a better job on those key downs.”

Eastern did indeed start to tighten up after half, forcing CMU punts on its first two possessions in the second half.

But, a six-play 44-yard Maverick drive in the fourth quarter included a Salum-to-Corbin Covey 37-yard completion on a sliding catch near the sidelines. That soon led to a 43-yard field goal to extend the CMU lead back to 34-14.

Connor Sosa’s interception on a deep Salum jump ball gave the Hounds the ball in plus-territory, allowing Eastern’s offense to come away with another score.

“Our mindset was we weren’t gonna worry about the scoreboard, and just gonna come out and play football and see if we can win the second half,” Lee explained. “Again, just focus on doing those things, and we figured the rest would take care of itself. Luckily, it gave us a shot to get back in the game.”

But, CMU’s aforementioned 7:17 drive to end the game was a real dagger for the Greyhound defense. A faint glimmer of hope to rally back was diminished by two key third down conversions. Salum found KJ Sapp on third-and-5 for six yards, before Salum kept it himself for seven yards on the next third-and-five opportunity. Finally, with just over two minutes to play, Salum rushed for 14 yards and second-and-10, putting the game on ice.

Salum went 11-of-21 for 184 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also added 93 yards on 17 carries, while Makakona led the way with 98 yards and a pair of scores. Brad Hardin had 11 tackles, while Sosa and Ricky Barfield had eight apiece.

Special teams

The big news was Smith’s would-be kick return touchdown, midway through the second quarter. A pair of penalties (holding and block in the back) negated the score, and was yet another first half letdown for ENMU. The kicking game, as well as kickoff and punt coverage units, did its job, and so did punter Tyler Vargas. Vargas, a junior from San Diego, is the Hounds’ new kicker/punter. Besides knocking home all three of his extra points, while also recording a touchback, Vargas had a tremendous night punting the ball. Vargas had four punts — with three landing inside of the 20-yard line. Three of those four punts went 50-plus yards in distance, including a long of 59. Overall, he averaged 54.5 yards per punt on the night, and is averaging 46.7 yards on 11 punts this year. In comparison, last year’s punter, Nicholas Little, averaged just 37.4 yards per punt, with just six total punts inside the 20 and just three 50-plus yard punts in 10 games.

 
 

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