Kaleb Center, Sports Information Director
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – There were only two scoring plays in the first 60 minutes of football, but the Colorado Mesa Mavericks needed just one more than the Chadron State College Eagles in overtime to win a 10-7 defensive struggle on Saturday in Grand Junction.
“At the end of these losses,” said CSC Head Football Coach Jay Long, “the players all know. It hurts to lose. If it doesn’t, you’re not working hard enough. The part I’m happy about is that our team is fighting for each other. That’s what got us into the overtime to begin with.”
The teams took a 0-0 deadlock into the halftime locker room, after both teams missed two field goals in the first half. In Mesa’s case, kicker Luis Ruiz-Diaz hooked tries of 45 and 28 yards. CSC’s Drake Holdren missed a 37-yarder and had a 40-yarder blocked. Up until the final drive of the half, the Eagles and Mavs only had 229 yards of combined offense.
Holdren’s blocked field goal was one of two chances in the game that CMU thwarted. The other, from 30 yards out, came early in the third quarter as the Eagles tried to answer a Colorado Mesa touchdown that broke the tie game and made it 7-0.
That score came on the Mavs’ second offensive play of the third quarter. It was CMU sophomore backup running back Jesse Rodriquez taking the ball on a 61-yard scamper just 2:40 into the second half. Rodriquez entered the game on his team’s second play of the game and received the majority of carries among the Mesa running backs after starter Isaac Maestas was injured on the first play and never returned.
Rodriquez carried the load for CMU, finishing with 173 rushing yards on 22 carries and catching two passes for six yards. He accounted for more than half of his team’s 346 yards of total offense
“We practiced a lot this fall, but it’s always different against another team,” Long said. “They’re going through all the same things we have.”
“Defensively, our scheme really worked. We gave up one big play, but otherwise we put together a really good game. Our defensive line needs a real shout-out. Their goal is to knock the offensive line back and force the ball to our linebackers, and that’s what they did.
Linebackers Jeremiah Makhununiu and Travis Wilson were busy. Each of them had 13 tackles in the game and an assisted tackle for loss.
The two “Star” backers, who play outside the box, combined for 10 more stops. They are Jeremiah Gutierrez and Noah Kerchal.
Starting defensive linemen Brandon Hopkins and Trevon Smith, who is the first true freshman to start an opener for Long, combined on a quarterback sack, and reserve lineman Gabe Perkins added a solo sack.
The closing seconds of the fourth quarter were the bright spot for the Eagles on offense. That was when they received a punt at their own 42-yard line with 1:29 left in the game, still down 7-0. Quarterback Dalton Holsthad two key passes to receiver Chad Mikelson on the drive, and received a pass interference call, to move the ball 58 yards in 1:04, capped by a scoring throw to freshman Jalon’e Rice of nine yards, tying the game with 25 ticks remaining.
Mikelson finished as CSC’s leading receiver with seven receptions for 82 yards.
“Chad’s a juniorand today was a good day for him,” Long said. “He and Dalton were on the same page.”
In overtime, the Eagles took possession of the ball first, and Dalton found Mikelson once again. This time the pair connected for a 17-yard first down, placing the ball at the eight-yard line.
There, however, a Holst pass that appeared headed for tight end Baylor Hayes was intercepted by the Mavs’ Jordan Ellis just over the goal line, awarding the ball back to CMU at the Eagles’ 25.
Mesa did not need much more offense after that. Kicker Ruiz-Diaz, who two seasons ago received all-conference honorable mention, was good from 38 yards to win the game for the Mavericks.
“It’s an emotional time right now, but I’m proud of our guys’ effort. They were cheering for each other and making plays.
Colorado Mesa held the Eagles to just 55 yards on the ground. The Mavericks also sacked Holst four times.
CSC achieved 266 yards of total offense. The Eagles won time of possession by seven minutes and got 17 first downs to Mesa’s 16.
Saturday’s loss is the first overtime game for CSC since defeating Missouri S&T 40-34 in 2013.
Chadron State’s next game is scheduled for October 17, when they host South Dakota Mines at 5 p.m.