Buffs rout rival Greyhounds to maintain Wagon Wheel

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West Texas A&M celebrates by holding on to the Wagon Wheel after defeating rival Eastern New Mexico 44-24 on Saturday night at Greyhounds Stadium in Portales, N.M. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

The Wagon Wheel is staying nice and comfy in Canyon.

West Texas A&M made sure of that by putting it on arch rival Eastern New Mexico with a tremendous defensive showing in a 44-24 victory that wasn’t as close as it looked on Saturday night Greyhounds Stadium in Portales, N.M.

It’s the Buffs second straight win in this series, and the second straight time the Buffs have sprinted to the south end zone to grab the coveted Wagon Wheel on ENMU’s home turf.

“That wheel has a comfortable place in our office,” said WT head coach Hunter Hughes, who is now 2-2 all-time in Wagon Wheel games. “We had no plans of giving it back. It was a great win for us, and a great win for our program that we can build on for next week.”

WT has found new life after what looked like a struggling season with back-to-back wins, moving to 4-3 overall, but much more importantly right in the hunt in the Lone Star Conference at 3-1.

Turnovers were the story of this game. The Buffs clamped down throughout the second quarter by flustering Greyhounds freshman quarterback Nathan Valencia into five interceptions on five straight possessions.

The pick parade started with the Buffs leading 20-10, and only 1:09 remaining in the first half. WT cornerback Tobias Harris jumped a route and returned it 26 yards for a pick-six, extending the advantage, 27-10.

West Texas A&M cornerback Tobias Harris returned two interceptions for touchdowns during the Buffs 44-24 win at Eastern New Mexico. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

It was only the start of what was a career performance from the ever exciting junior. Harris picked off Valencia again in the third quarter then turned on his jets going 66 yards for his second interception return of the night.

“We wanted to create turnovers,” Harris said. “We felt we haven’t been doing that. This was a big game for us to show we can be a dominant defense.”

Hughes echoed Harris’ comment.

“Tobias is a competitor,” Hughes said. “He loves to win, and he never lets anything bother him. He’s always having fun, and he just got us rolling.”

Harris ended the night with three interceptions, as linebacker Eric Collins and safety Gage Smith also got in on the fun.

WT forced ENMU (3-4, 1-3) into six total turnovers, turning those miscues into 24 points.

On the offensive side, quarterback Nick Gerber played his best game of the season, using both his arm and his feet. The Levelland graduate had total command of the offense, throwing for 173 yards, while rushing for a team-high 73 yards which included a 39-yard touchdown run that gave WT a 20-10 lead with a 1:48 to go in the second quarter.

“It’s nice to relax when your defense does what they did,” Gerber said. “Our defense really stepped up, but I feel we clicked on offense more than we have. We’re just glad to keep that Wagon Wheel in Canyon.”

West Texas A&M running back Brandon Blair looks for running room against Eastern New Mexico. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

Running back Brandon Blair was superb filling in for Khalil Harris, who didn’t play after the opening drive after leaving with an injury. Behind his powerful offensive line, Blair bulled his way to 67 yards on 15 carries with a score.

It was also the seniors first time to celebrate the Wagon Wheel in his time at WT. Blair missed the 2019 game with an injury.

“Running to get that wheel was everything I thought It could be,” Blair said. “I had surgery two years ago and wasn’t even here the last time we won. This was amazing. What I love about this team is we do such a good job in practice of splitting reps. It’s a next man up mentality, and I knew what I needed to do.”

For full game stats please visit, https://gobuffsgo.com/sports/football/stats/2021/eastern-new-mexico/boxscore/8186

West Texas A&M kicker and Caprock graduate Cason Polivoda knocks through a field goal against Eastern New Mexico. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]

What a debut

Caprock graduate and WT freshman kicker Cason Polivoda had a night he’ll never forget. Making his first career college start, the former Longhorn was money, knocking down field goals from 44, 32, and 24 yards. Polivoda was also perfect on extra-points going 5-for-5.

The series

WT now leads the all-time series with ENMU 18-17 overall, and is 17-16 all-time in Wagon Wheel games.

Next up

The Buffs return home to take on LSC for Texas A&M-Commerce at 6 p.m. Saturday at Buffaloes Stadium.

LSC Week 7 scores

Saturday’s games

W. Texas A&M 44, E. New Mexico 24

A&M-Commerce 58, W. New Mexico 0

Angelo State 34, UT Permian Basin 14

A&M-Kingsville 51, Lincoln, Calif. 21

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