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Hounds, Highlands to collide in opener

Staff report

PORTALES — For some reason, New Mexico Highlands has had Eastern New Mexico University’s number recently in football.

link Staff photo: Kevin Wilson

ENMU sophomore D’Maujeric Tucker gets by defender Connor Brinton during an August scrimmage at Greyhound Stadium. The Greyhounds open their season tonight at New Mexico Highlands.

The Cowboys will look for a fourth consecutive win over the Greyhounds in today’s 6 p.m. season opener for both teams at Las Vegas, N.M.

“It’s one thing we haven’t really done here,” third-year ENMU coach Josh Lynn said of trying to beat the Cowboys.

Lynn, whose team is coming off a Lone Star Conference co-championship with Tarleton State, nonetheless dropped last year’s season opener to NMHU 31-28 at Greyhound Stadium. It was one of only two wins all season for the Cowboys.

In 2011, Highlands overcame a 28-0 halftime deficit to win 43-36 in overtime at Greyhound Stadium, then won the next year at Las Vegas 42-14.

The Hounds are expecting the Cowboys to put the ball in the air a lot tonight with senior quarterback Lance Orender, a backup on last year’s squad.

Lynn said NMHU could be explosive under new offensive coordinator Chase Holbrook, a former New Mexico State University quarterback. He was the OC last year at McMurry and, despite a 3-8 overall record, guided the War Hawks to an average of 38 1/2 points and 523 yards per game.

“Defensively, they’ll probably be similar to what they’ve been,” Lynn said of NMHU. “They’ll try to play the run strong. And they’re also a pretty athletic team.”

ENMU returns many of the key players from last year’s 7-3 squad, which ended the season on a six-game winning streak. Meantime, Highlands dropped its final eight contests in 2013.

While it’s an out--of-conference game, it figures to be important in regional rankings, Lynn said. He thinks last season’s loss to the Cowboys may have been enough to keep the Hounds out of the NCAA Division II playoffs.

“Defensively, we can’t give up big plays; we need to make them grind it out a little bit,” Lynn said. “And the last three years we’ve played these guys, turnovers have played a big role.”

GAMEDAY

ENMU at NM Highlands

• When: 6 p.m. today in the season opener for both teams at Las Vegas, N.M.

• Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9.

• Coaches: ENMU, Josh Lynn, 3rd, 8-13; New Mexico Highlands, Eric Young, 4th year, 14-19.

• Last meeting: 2013, the Cowboys edged ENMU 31-28 at Blackwater Draw.

• Highlands players to watch: Jared Koster, 6-1, 210, Sr., LB; Lance Orender, 6-5, 210, Sr., QB; Tyler Slavin, 6-2, 215, Sr., WR; Patrick Carney, 6-0, 215, PK/P, Sr.

• Notes: Despite losing the last three meetings, the Hounds own a 30-13 lead in the all-time series. Prior to that, the teams hadn’t faced each other since a 45-14 ENMU win in 2003 at Greyhound Stadium. … ENMU is 37-37-3 in season openers, including 5-6 against the Cowboys. … NMHU struggled to a 2-9 record last year (1-8 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference ), hurt by a minus-16 turnover ratio. … The Cowboys were picked for a tie for seventh with Western New Mexico in the RMAC’s preseason poll. … Koster was a first-team All-RMAC selection. Carney is the leading returning punter in NCAA Division II. He averaged 45.2 yards last season.

— Compiled by Dave Wagner