Nobody can accuse the New Mexico Highlands University football team of having cupcakes on its non-conference schedule this season.
It’s been a tough start for the Cowboys, who opened with games at Fort Hays State out of the rugged MIAA conference and at Northern Arizona, a member of the NCAA Division I “subdivision,” formerly I-AA, one rung below the big schools. Highlands lost at FHSU 44-0 and at NAU 68-10. While the Cowboys have averaged 168.5 yards of offense a game, they’ve given up 550.5.
The good news is that probably the two most powerful opponents on the schedule are out of the way, and the rigors of those games may have toughened the Cowboys for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference schedule ahead.
First up on the RMAC slate is a road game at Mesa State College on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. kickoff) in Grand Junction, Colo.
It’s still no picnic for Highlands.
Mesa State went 10-2 overall and 7-1 in league play in 2007. And like NMHU, the Mavericks are coming off a pair of defeats against powerful opponents. They lost 23-20 to visiting West Texas A&M on Aug. 28 and fell to 11th-ranked Central Washington 48-14 in Ellensburg, Wash.
The Mavericks have demonstrated a balanced offense. The ground game has been responsible for 158 of the team’s average 306 yards per contest.
Bobby Coy has rushed 52 times for 262 net yards, an average of 131 a game, and has scored twice.
Phil Vigil has hit 25 of 41 passes for 286 yards — 143 a game — with two touchdowns and one interception.
Maurice Manley (nine catches, 100 yards, two TDs) and Griffin Chernoff (seven catches, 102 yards) have been Vigil’s main targets.
Defensively, cornerback Aaron Silverthorn has picked off two passes and made 14 tackles. safety Ryan Kadavy leads Mesa with 17 stops; Brandon Waymire has 14.
Head coach Joe Ramunno has led the Mavs to two RMAC titles — in 2000 and 2003 — and five winning seasons in his 10-year tenure.
For Highlands, the early statistics could be deceiving because of the relative strength of schedule.
Quarterback Vince Seeno has completed 23 of 48 passes for 295 yards — an average of 147.5 a game — with four interceptions.
Tailback Randall Brown has rushed for 45 net yards on 22 carries and has cuacht six passes for 39 yards. NMHU’s most prolific wideout is Jon Ligons with seven receptions for 184 yards.
Matt Williams (10 tackles), David Lautalo (nine and a half stops), Tevita Poe (nine tackles and a fumble recovery), and Chris Burns (nine stops) are among the Cowboys’ defensive leaders to date.
The team’s lone touchdown thus far came in the fourth quarter of the NAU game, when LaVaughn Macon returned a kickoff 99 yards.
Both Las Vegas prep football teams are also on the road this weekend. With its coaching situation now settled, Robertson (0-2) visits Class 4A Moriarty. West Las Vegas (1-1) treks east to face a strong 2A Tucumcari squad.