It’s homecoming at New Mexico Highlands University this week, and chief among the homecoming festivities for the Cowboys is the football game against Chadron State Saturday afternoon. For the Cowboys football team, it is an opportunity to get back on track after playing three of the toughest games on their schedule in the last three weeks.
Not only have the Cowboys had tough opponents on the field, but they have had lingering COVID-19 issues dating back to the end of training camp and have missed key players in three of their four games this season. Now with everyone back on the field, head coach Josh Kirkland is excited to see what his team can do this week and beyond.
“Saturday was the first game where we had all of our players,” Kirkland said. “With as much time as we’ve missed in practice and the weight room… but we’re getting in better shape, we finally finished a game.”
The Cowboys are 1-3, but the coaching staff is staying positive amidst the circumstances. They have played two of the best Division II teams in the country in Colorado School of Mines and Colorado Mesa, and they went on the road to face an FCS foe in Tarleton State last weekend. Against Tarleton State Kirkland saw some encouraging signs on film that could bode well for his team going forward.
“Saturday night was the first game when I turned on the tape on Sunday where our team didn’t die in the second half,” Kirkland said. “We didn’t run out of gas, we weren’t having kids so tired on the sideline like we were in the first three, which was great to see.”
In their first two conference losses of the season, conditioning has been a story for the Cowboys. Against Colorado Mesa the Cowboys went into the half up 30-28 before getting outscored 28-7 in the second half. The week before against Colorado School of Mines the Cowboys trailed by just three at halftime, 17-14. Coming out of the locker room the Cowboys could never get anything going on offense before ultimately losing 31-21. Kirkland now believes that his team is ready to turn the corner and reel off some wins, starting Saturday afternoon.
“Chadron’s a good football team, coach Long has done a great job there,” Kirkland said. “They’re going to be very sound, they’re not going to make mistakes, we have come in and give our best effort, but if we come in and play the way we did last Saturday then I’m pretty comfortable that we’re going to be just fine.”
For the Cowboys to win this week, they will need a big game from junior wide receiver CJ Sims. Sims has 480 receiving yards and six total touchdowns in the first four games of the season. His elite speed is a big part of what makes the offense formidable. Sims is far from the only option at receiver, though, as junior Ronald Jamison and sophomores Quavon Beckford and Courtlandt Brooks have all had their moments to start the season and are more than talented enough to have a breakout game.
Despite all the receiving talent Kirkland said his team will need to run the ball to win, and a lot of that starts with senior quarterback Ramone Atkins. Atkins is the team’s second-leading rusher, and the power run element he brings to complement junior Cameron High and senior Kamari Mosby in the backfield is what the Cowboys need if they want to replicate last week’s production on the ground, when they tallied 230 rushing yards. Running the ball and tackling on defense is what Kirkland says the Cowboys need to do in order to win.
It’s the first homecoming game for a lot of these players and the coaching staff. They’re enjoying the festivities, and they look forward to having a home crowd cheer them on.
“There’s a ton of excitement and a lot of festivities going on this week,” Kirkland said. “There’s a bonfire Friday night, and that’s going to be a lot of fun for all of us, I’ll have me, my kids and my wife at that.”
Most importantly the team is looking to win and hopefully start meeting the potential that this group of players has.