Eastern New Mexico isn't close to being ranked in Division II. Yet, the Greyhounds dealt Northeastern State the same kind of defeat that six ranked teams — or close-to-ranked teams — had handed the RiverHawks in the first six weeks of the season.
Jordan Wells and Christian Long both rushed for more than 100 yards as Eastern New Mexico doused Northeastern State in a 35-14 contest at Doc Wadley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
For the RiverHawks, it was the first game this season against a opponent that wasn't in — or receiving votes for — the national top-25 poll. Nevertheless, it was another blowout loss.
"I don't think we were that bad," Northeastern State head coach Kenny Evans said. "We're just that young and that inexperienced in college football. I mean, a lot of those guys were playing at Millwood, Pryor, Tahlequah and all those places a year ago. Now they're starting against college football players that have two to three years of experience. That's what happens."
With a narrow victory over Angelo State last week, Eastern New Mexico eliminated any doubt in this one right before halftime. Credit Northeastern State quarterback Thor Long for that.
With the RiverHawks on Eastern New Mexico's 13-yard line and trailing 14-7, Long tossed a pass over the middle of the field that was picked off by linebacker Seth Bailey, who returned the ball to 31 yards to give the Greyhounds a shot at scoring again before the break.
That's exactly what Eastern New Mexico did.
It took the Greyhounds 29 seconds to go 64 yards in three plays, as they capped off the drive on Jeremy Buurma's 16-yard pass to a wide open Jacob Johnson.
All of a sudden it was a 21-7 game at the break, instead of possible a 14-10 or 14-14 contest.
"That was huge because not only was it the seven points or three points we didn't get, but it allowed them to get into position to score seven of their own," said Evans, whose team dropped to 0-7. "It was a 10- to 14-point swing, and that was the momentum changer we couldn't come back from."
Eastern New Mexico head coach Josh Lynn knew the interception and subsequent touchdown by his club could end up being a back-breaker.
"Sometimes when turnovers happen to a team like that, it's really hard to overcome," Lynn said.
With plenty of cushion in the second half, the Greyhounds kept the ball on the ground and ended up with 368 yards on the ground — 196 of which came in the second half. Wells finished with a game-high 132 yards on eight carries, and Long had 102 yards and two touchdowns on 21 rushes.
"We figured out what they were doing, and we got our fullback going," Lynn said. "Then we started hitting them on the outside, and we kind of got going there, which was nice."
It was the first time NSU had allowed two 100-yard rushers since Brandon Kelsey and Keidrick Jackson pulled off the feat for Midwestern State — also a Lone Star Conference team, like Eastern New Mexico — in 2011.
NSU's defense also allowed the most rushing yards since Harding piled up 458 yards in 2011.
After Long's 2-yard touchdown run for Eastern New Mexico early in the first quarter, the RiverHawks answered and tied the game up at 7. NSU took over at Eastern New Mexico's 16-yard line after Wells fumbled, and NSU running back Terrance Dixon found the end zone on a 16-yard run three plays later.
But that would be the final time NSU would find the end zone until the fourth quarter. In between NSU scores, Eastern New Mexico scored 28 unanswered points.
The RiverHawks' final score came on quarterback Thor Long's 76-yard pass to Cruz Williams with 4:46 left. The completion, however, was only Long's 11th of the game on 27 attempts. The sophomore from Texas completed 40.7 percent of his passes for 141 yards while getting sacked twice.
Evans said there was some consideration in pulling Long from the game after his struggles throughout the contest.
"Thought about it at times," Evans said. "...Right now with the other injuries...Thor is our best option right now."
In the end, NSU was limited to 250 yards of total offense — the fourth time in seven games that the RiverHawks have failed to get more than 300 yards.