The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Hounds heading east

 

November 2, 2017

Tony Bullocks

ENMU senior running back Kamal Cass evades a tackle from a Texas A&M-Kingsville defender to turn the corner for a short gain in Saturday's game at Greyhound Stadium. Cass is No. 11 in Division II in rushing and leads the Lone Star Conference with 1,077 yards rushing on 218 carries - 447 yards ahead of second-place Josh Stevens of Angelo State.

PORTALES — When Eastern New Mexico University first looked at the prospect of playing West Liberty, it was with the knowledge it would be the 10th scheduled game — ensuring the team would be playoff-eligible.

Now that the trip to West Virginia is upon the Greyhounds, the playoff thoughts clearly loom larger. The stakes are simple: If the 21st-ranked Greyhounds (7-1) can defeat the Hilltoppers on the road tonight, they'll be back in Portales on Friday with eight days to prepare for a showdown with Midwestern State that would almost certainly launch the winner into the 28-team Division II playoff field.

The Hilltoppers aren't just a doormat 3-6 squad, though, ENMU coach Kelley Lee said.

"They're a very good defensive football team," Lee said. "They're very sound. They tackle well. Their offense struggled early in the year, but it's come around."

The Greyhounds planned to fly out of Amarillo on Wednesday morning, then take a bus about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh to the West Liberty campus in West Virginia.

The long trip is the genesis of the Greyhounds needing a 10th game on the schedule, and West Liberty hoping somebody would give it an 11th.

"We've made a point to provide our student-athletes with the maximum amount of games we can play," Hilltoppers coach Roger Waialae said. "We put an ad out, and Eastern New Mexico was the first school to respond. They were the only school that had the same open date."

The administrations talked. There was no way West Liberty could afford the trip to Portales, and the Greyhounds didn't see how they could foot the travel bill either.

A compromise was made in which West Liberty paid for ENMU's bus travel, meals and lodging and ENMU covered its flights to and from Pittsburgh.

The cost to West Liberty was the same as an average road game in the Mountain East Conference, and the Hilltoppers end up getting a ranked opponent.

"I knew they'd be good," said Waialae, 73-68 in 13 seasons at West Liberty. "We did our homework, and knew they'd run an offense we don't see. We thought the most important thing was to give our student-athletes an opportunity to play a game. ENMU happens to be good on both sides of the ball. They're a really good football team, and their special teams are really good."

The Hilltoppers, also a Division II team, are coming off a 44-14 win over Concord that snapped a five-game losing skid. For the most part, West Liberty has been a play or two away, with five of its games so far decided by six points or less (1-4 record in those games).

Waialae said the Mountain East, which makes up the Hilltoppers' entire schedule except for ENMU, is a conference in which everybody is evenly matched except for Shepherd — the No. 2-ranked team in the nation.

"We've had only two games we haven't been in," Waialae said. "One was a special teams debacle. The other one was Shepherd, and if you don't know about Shepherd ..."

Due to the short week, the Greyhounds only had two practices — a light workout Monday following a 51-34 win over Texas A&M-Kingsville and another on Tuesday that focused largely on film study and walkthroughs.

"You want enough practice to be ready for the game," Lee said, "but not enough to wear you out."

 

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