Colorado State-Pueblo’s defense lived up to its reputation and the ThunderWolves made the most of their scoring opportunities Saturday afternoon while defeating Chadron State 28-6 in the regular-season finale for both teams at storied Elliott Field.
The victory allows Pueblo, now 9-2 overall and 9-1 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, to share first place in the league with Colorado Mesa and to advance to the Division II playoffs. Chadron State finishes at 6-5 for the season and 6-4 and in fourth place in the RMAC.
Pueblo’s physical and extremely active defense, the stingiest in the RMAC most of the season, limited the Eagles to a season-low 226 total net yards and held the offense scoreless. The Eagles got their only touchdown midway in the third period when linebacker Tyler Lewis returned an interception 22 yards.
The Eagles began the game with an excellent drive that took them from their own 35 to deep into Pueblo territory. It appeared they had scored when quarterback Dalton Holst hit wide receiver Stevann Brown with a pass in the back of the end zone.
Even the National Guard/ROTC cannon that is fired when a CSC touchdown is scored went off. Photographs show Brown on his knees in the end zone with the ball in his hands.
But the referees ruled Brown had not made the catch.
After Pueblo was assessed a five-yard penalty on the play for being off sides, the Eagles attempted a 36-yard field goal, but it was blocked and returned 30 yards by Jadon Garcia to the Chadron State 38.
A major penalty against the Eagles helped the ThunderWolves score in six plays. Tailback Marche Dennard went the final two yards after he’d ripped off 16 on his first carry of the game.
Pueblo moved ahead 14-0 early in the second quarter, when quarterback Rex Dausin sneaked the final yard after Dennard had runs of 11 and seven yards and Dausen completed a pair of passes totaling 26 yards. The drive covered 61 yards.
As the second quarter was winding down, the ThunderWolves mounted an 87-yard drive that began when Chadron State failed to pick up a first down at the Pueblo 13 by no more than an inch.
After the Wolves picked up a first down, they had a fourth and eight at the CSC 28 and lined up as if they would punt. But the snap went directly to one of the protectors, Michael Wristen, a 6-4, 248 pound defensive end, who rumbled 31 yards to the CSC 41.
He’s the nephew of Pueblo head coach John Wristen.
Pueblo needed eight more plays to reach the end zone. Ammon Johnson made a leaping grab of Dausin’s 13-yard pass for the TD with 39 seconds left before halftime. Mitchell Carter’s extra point made the score 21-0.
The ThunderWolves added their fourth TD on the opening possession of the second half by going 56 yards in five plays after Tevin Donnell had returned the kickoff 34 yards. The big-gainer was a 26-yard pass from Dausin to Kevin Ribarich before Dennard went the final five yards over left guard.
The Eagles uncorked their longest play, a 49-yard pass from Holst to Brandon Fullerton, on the ensuing possession, and drove to the Pueblo six before three passes fell incomplete. They decided to settle for a field goal, but it missed.
However, Lewis, who also returned a fumble 67 yards for a touchdown in the Eagles’ 35-14 win over Black Hills State the previous Saturday, picked off Dausin’s pass on the first play after Pueblo took over and ran untouched 26 yards to the end zone for what turned out to be CSC’s highlight.
Chadron State’s Steve Allen also swiped one of Dausin’s passes late in the third quarter.
Senior safety Brian Wood also had a gold star performance for the Eagles. His 16 tackles led the Eagles for the fourth consecutive game, giving him 53 during that span.
With Dausin completing 15 of 27 passes for 159 yards and Dennard rushing 25 times for 110 yards to lead the way, Pueblo finished with 365 total net yards. After falling behind 14-0, the Eagles pretty well abandoned their running game and finished with only 56 yards rushing. Holst was not as accurate as usual, completing just 16 of 41 passes for 141 yards. Like Dausin, he had two passes intercepted.
The game’s most astounding statistic was Pueblo’s 21 penalties for 192 yards. The flags accounted for half of Chadron State’s 18 first downs.
While Wristen, who has a 97-23 record during his 10 years as the Wolves’ coach, commended his team for playing well, particularly on defense, he noted the penalties “are something we’ll definitely need to fix if we get in the playoffs.”
It was announced Sunday that Pueblo will play Minnesota State at Mankato on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs.
A number of the penalties were assessed because of the Wolves’ over-aggressiveness on defense.
Chadron State coach Jay Long said he was disappointed the Eagles didn’t make more out of their offensive opportunities, but added, “We were beaten by a great team and the loss doesn’t take away from the strong effort our players put forth. Our guys played hard.”
The game was the last on the Elliott Field turf and in front of Don Beebe Stadium that has stood since 1929. Beginning this week, the stadium is being dismantled and will be replaced by a new facility. Artificial surface will also replace grass on the gridiron, which dates back apparently to 1911, the year the college opened and three football games were played that fall.
First Downs 23 18
Total Net Yards 365 226
Rushes, Yards 49-206 18-56
Passing Yards 159 170
Passing 15-27-2 18-46-2
Return Yards 93 146
Punts, Average 5-36.0 4-43.2
Fumbles, Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties, Yards 21-192 6-53
CSU-Pueblo 7 14 7 0 ----28
Chadron State 0 0 6 0 -----6
CSU-P—Marche Dennard 2 run (Mitchell Carter kick)
CSU-P—Rex Dausin 1 run (Carter kick)
CSU-P—Ammon Johnson 13 pass from Dausin (Carter kick)
CSU-P—Dennard 5 run (Carter kick)
CSC—Tyler Lewis 22 interception return (pass failed)
Rushing: CSU-P—Marche Dennard 25-110, Austin Micci 13-56, Michael Wristen 1-31, Rex Dausin 3-10, Josh Smith 4-2, Team 3-minus 3. CSC—Derek Jackson 11-42, Kevin Coy 3-7. TD Stein 2-7, Stevann Brown 1-3, Dalton Holst 1-minus 3.
Passing: CSU-P—Rex Dausin 15-27-2, 159 yards, 1 TD; CSC—Dalton Holst 16-41-2, 141 yards; TD Stein 2-5-0, 29 yards.
Receiving: CSU-P—Ammon Johnson 7-59, Morgan Smith 3-47, Kevin Ribarich 3-37, Zach Boyd 1-12, Austin Micci 1-4. CSC—Jackson Dickerson 6-11, Tevon Wright 4-53, Colt Foster 4-34, Brandon Fullerton 3-63, Stevann Brown 1-9.
Kickoff returns: CSU-P—Tevin Donnell 1-34, Shane Larson 1-24. CSC—Brian Wood 4-99. Punt Returns: CSU-P—Brandon O’Donnell 1-2. CSC—none. Interception returns: CSU-P—Tanner Draper 1-35, Emory Taylor—1-0. CSC—Steve Allen 1-25, Tyler Lewis 1-22.
Tackles: CSU-P—Jamaal Sears 4-3, 7; Darius Williams 4-0, 4; Marcus Lawrence 40-4. CSC—Brian Wood 7-9, 16; Mitch Collicott 4-5, 9; Truett Box 2-7, 9; Ryan Wood 5-3, 8; Keenan Johnson 4-4, 8.