The possibilities were out there. Lance Orender could see them as he walked on the field Saturday at Perkins Stadium on the New Mexico Highlands campus.
It was homecoming, and the Western New Mexico football team had been invited to take part in the fun. Orender and the NMHU Cowboys had a plan, and it involved the passing game.
“We wanted to throw a lot,” Orender said. “We knew they would be blitzing and manning us up.”
And throw, he did. And throw. And throw.
By the time the day had reached late afternoon, Orender had thrown 78 passes, completing 56 of them in a 59-38 Cowboys victory. Eight of them went for touchdowns. School and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference records were shattered. Even Houston QB David Piland’s NCAA record for most passes in a game without an interception (77) was gone.
“I had some great help from my receivers,” Orender said. “They were making every catch.”
Most notably, Tyler Slavin, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior receiver from Corona, Calif., caught 17 balls for 225 yards and four touchdowns.
Eight receivers, representing four states (but now under one Cowboy hat), caught passes. Five of them hauled in TD passes.
“We don’t worry about time of possession,” NMHU head coach Eric Young said. “A lot of those passes are our run game. We ran 100 plays Saturday. That’s a goal of ours, to run 100 plays every game.”
Orender has put up big numbers before, having set school records for career yards (5,707) and passing touchdowns (63) at Fresno Community College in 2010-11.
In those days, the 6-5, 220-pound Orender expected to make the jump to major college football. Schools such as California, Nevada and San Diego State appeared to have interest.
That was also true when he was slinging the ball for the Buchanan High Bears in Clovis, Calif. But in both cases, grades got in the way.
“Yeah, I was definitely thinking going major college (out of high school), but that didn’t work out,” Orender said. “At Fresno, I was thinking the same thing. I was three units short and I didn’t have the grades.
“When I got here, I made it a point to get on my schoolwork and not overlook that side of it.”
Orender, who wants to go into coaching or athletic training, came to NMHU on the advice of a former Fresno CC teammate who had become a Cowboy.
“Trent Hicks called me up and asked me if I was going anywhere,” Orender said. “He hooked me up here.”
Last season, in a backup role, Orender played five games, completing 29 of 46 passes for 346 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. In the second quarter alone of Saturday’s game, he threw four TD passes.
“The biggest thing for Lance, outside of his physical attributes, is the fact he wants to keep getting better,” offensive coordinator Chase Holbrook said. “It’s been a few years since he’s been the main guy. He’s hungry to get better every day.”
Holbrook, the former New Mexico State standout QB, joined the Cowboys in June.
“Those two guys are getting on the same page,” Young said of Orender and Holbrook.
Holbrook said he wants Orender to improve his reads.
“If you go through your progressions, with our receivers, you will find somebody open,” Holbrook said he tells Orender.
Meanwhile, Young said he’s gotten some calls this week from NFL scouts, who are interested in Orender, Slavin and others.
Orender is trying not to think beyond this week. He figures if he takes care of business now, the future will take care of itself.
Holbrook said Orender puts a lot of pressure on himself, something the quarterback acknowledges. What helps is having a girlfriend to lean on. Orender met Janell Palacios his sophomore year at Fresno CC. She lives in California but has been to a few games at Highlands.
“She’s there for me when I get upset at myself,” Orender said.
Today there’s not much to be upset about. The Cowboys (1-2) are riding high as they prepare for Saturday’s game at Fort Lewis College.
“My expectation is to win all of our games the rest of the season,” Orender said. “I really believe we can do that.”