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Cass breaks record but ENMU loses LSC title bid to Midwestern State

 

November 12, 2017

Christopher Cook

Clovis graduate and ENMU senior Kamal Cass scores one of his three touchdowns during Saturday night's Lone Star Conference showdown against Midwestern State at Greyhound Stadium in Portales.

PORTALES — There were two coronations as a result of Saturday's Midwestern State-Eastern New Mexico football game, but only one that the Greyhounds were hoping for.

With a blistering passing attack, Midwestern State crowned itself Lone Star Conference champion, beating Eastern 56-43 at Greyhound Stadium to finish 8-0 in conference play, 9-0 overall in the regular season.

Though in the Greyhounds' defeat, Clovis High graduate and current ENMU senior Kamal Cass — with the help of his blockers — crowned himself the school's all-time leading rusher, amassing 276 yards on 38 carries, outdistancing previous record-holder Tom Manley by 99 yards. Cass ended the game with 4,301 career rushing yards. He also topped his previous single-game career high by 44 yards and his single-game carries mark by one.

As impressive as Cass' rushing record is, Midwestern State's conference title was the night's most impacting storyline. The Mustangs pushed forward after a September tragedy — the death of cornerback Robert Grays at the age of 19 due to injuries sustained from making a tackle.

"I think under the circumstances, it's pretty special," Midwestern head coach Bill Maskill said of his team's LSC championship.

Eastern had been hoping to climb into a tie atop the LSC standings and therefore keep itself in the conference title and NCAA playoff conversations. With the former gone, the latter is likely gone with it. The Greyhounds are probably now bowl-bound.

"I would certainly think so," Eastern's first-year head coach Kelley Lee said after his team had its six-game win streak snapped, and dropped to 8-2 overall, 6-2 conference. "Our two losses are to top-eight teams. ... It would be very disappointing if we didn't get a bowl bid."

Saturday's game was a track meet in the first half, tied 28-all at halftime. But, while Midwestern's passing attack continued clicking in the second half, the Mustangs' defense did a little better job of containing Cass and the ENMU offense during those final two periods.

Midwestern quarterback Layton Rabb did the worst damage, passing for 383 yards and six touchdowns total, igniting a Mustangs attack that was actually outgained by Eastern, 558-550 overall.

"They have a really good offense," Lee said. "We hoped to disrupt them a little bit. I think we did a few times. We got 'em into a few third-and-longs, but they were able to convert most of those third-and-longs."

Eastern had begun with a crackle, using the game's opening series to drive 73 yards for a touchdown on just five plays. Cass rushed for all 73 of those yards, including the three-yard capper into the end zone. Bailey Hale's extra point made it a 7-0 game with 12:28 still to go in the first quarter.

The Mustangs' answer came quickly, as they drove 65 yards on just seven plays during their own first possession, which ended with a one-yard Adrian Seales touchdown run. Jaron Imbriani's extra point tied it at 7 with 9:37 remaining in the first quarter.

And so it went during the first half. A 25-yard touchdown pass from Rabb to Brandon Samson gave Midwestern the lead. A 12-yard Cass touchdown run tied it five seconds into the second quarter.

Paul Terry's three-yard scoring run put Eastern back on top, still early in the second. Samson's 16-yard touchdown grab tied it again.

Tayshaun Gary's five-yard touchdown run gave ENMU the lead yet again. Jerryl Yarbrough's 25-yard touchdown catch knotted it up yet again. Ibriani's fourth extra point was the last of a 35-point second quarter.

Cass entered halftime with 175 rushing yards, just two shy of tying Manley's record, three from shattering it.

Both defenses, not just Midwestern's, were in need of halftime adjustments. The Mustangs' tweaks just happened to work out a little better.

"We didn't stop them," Midwestern defensive coordinator Rich Renner said. "We slowed them down, but it was a difference."

"We made some adjustments," Maskill said. "We didn't give up as many big, explosive plays in the second half as we did in the first half. ... Our kids were a little bit more assignment-sound in the second half."

With the game still tied at 28 and roughly 10 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter, Cass took a rightside handoff — his 21st carry — and picked up three yards to reach 178, the number he needed to supplant Manley. With the contest so tight and so much riding on it, the game wasn't stopped. During a stoppage later in the quarter, with Cass at 182 yards on 22 carries, his record performance was announced to the Greyhound Stadium crowd.

"He's been a fantastic player for us," Lee said later. "He's a great young man. He always plays well in the big games. I'm glad he got that record. I know the offensive linemen are glad he got that record. I think it meant more to them than it did to him."

As for Saturday's 'big game,' Midwestern went back ahead with 6:41 left in the third quarter, when Yarbrough made a sliding 10-yard catch in the Greyhounds' end zone.

A 33-yard Hale field goal brought the Hounds within 35-31 early in the fourth, but they would get no closer than that four-point difference the rest of the way.

A 14-yard touchdown catch by Xavier Land and Ibriani's extra point gave the Mustangs a 42-31 advantage with 12:47 left in the fourth. Eastern answered right back with a six-play, 72-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 49-yard Cass jaunt, and soon after, by his three-yard touchdown run at the 10:03 mark. A two-point conversion run failed, keeping the score at 42-37.

A 16-yard touchdown reception by Land and an 81-yard scoring run by Seales put the game just about out of reach, as Midwestern had constructed a 56-37 lead with 2:25 to go.

D'Maujeric Tucker's three-yard touchdown run brought Eastern closer, but with only 34.7 seconds left, it was too late for the Hounds.

 

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