Ranked ninth in the country in Division II, the Colorado School of Mines football team looked every bit the part for the first 18 minutes or so against South Dakota School of Mines Saturday at O'Harra Stadium.
And then some.
The Hardrockers went three-and-out on their first four possessions, and the Orediggers scored touchdowns on their first four possessions en route to a 49-28 win to stay unbeaten in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference play and on the season.
"That helped to get out and get a 28-point lead, then we kind of messed around and had some undisciplined penalties, but we hung in there," Colorado Mines coach Gregg Brandon said of his team's three turnovers and 114 yards in penalties.
Trailing by 28 points, however, was a steep, steep mountain to get to for the Hardrockers in their home finale.
"It is always tough to fall behind," Mines junior receiver Carson Hunt said. "We just have to come out faster in the first half in all of the games."
Mines coach Zach Tinker said he didn't really know why his team got out to the slow start, but it is something that has happened to them a couple of times the last few years on Senior Day.
"I don't know what that is. For whatever reason it was not the start emotionally that we needed. It really wasn't what we were doing, but emotionally we weren't there," he said. "Once Ahmad (Lewis) cracked the big run (67-yard touchdown), it was like, 'Hold on, this is just a football game, just a couple of teams.' I thought we played well after that."
The Hardrockers couldn't stop the Oredigger ground attack, led by running back Michael Zeman, who followed up on his 298-yard effort last week in the win over Azusa Pacific, with 321 yards and four touchdowns Saturday. His effort broke the school record of 312 yards set by Cameron Mayberry in 2017.
"He was our backup kid, but Mayberry got hurt and he stepped up and has done a tremendous job for us," Brandon said. "I can't say enough about Mike Zeman. He's a hell of a football player. Our offensive line really dominated."
Colorado Mines quarterback John Matocha didn't have to throw a lot, but he was effective, completing 13-of-18 passes for 232 yards (only five passes in the second half). He hit Josh Johnston on a pair of touchdown passes from 40- and 6-yards out, sandwiched between two Zeman TD runs of 11 and 1-yard.
Finally early in the second, not only did Lewis get the team's first first down, he took it all of the way in for a 67-yard touchdown run.
"The O-line has been blocking great for me all year, I trust them. I found a little crease and just took it to the house ... I didn't look back," Lewis said. "That was a big spark. We were slow coming out of the gate. I feel that run gave the team a big boost."
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Colorado Mines led 28-7 at halftime and it opened the third on a nice scoring drive as Matocha went in from 1-yard out to make it a 28-point game again.
The two teams traded touchdowns the rest of the way, although the Hardrockers briefly cut the lead to 14 points with two straight scores. Mines quarterback Toby Smith threw three touchdown passes in the second half — two to Hunt (11 and 15 yards) and 24 yards to Joe Luebbers — while Zeman countered for Colorado Mines with TD runs of 27 and 12 yards.
"There were some good things, but they are good," Tinker said of the Orediggers. "When you are not quite right, they make you pay. That's really the story. We weren't quite right on a few things, and when we weren't, they made us pay."
Smith, who started the season as the third-string quarterback, finished 20-of-39 passing for 172 yards, and Hunt caught seven of those passes for 88 yards and the two scores.
"Obviously Carson did a great job today," Tinker said. "We had a plan to try to make their corners play a lot of defense, and we did. A couple more plays here and there, and it could have been more interesting."
Hunt said he and Smith have had an on-and-off connection all week, but they were on again Saturday.
"We just knew we had a matchup out there on their corners, and if he can throw the ball up, I can go make a play on it," Hunt said.
Lewis, meanwhile, needed 16 yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the season, and he got it on his long TD run. He finished with 102 yards for the game.
"I have to give my O-linemen credit, I couldn't have done it without them. It's a whole team effort," Lewis said of his rushing milestone.
Colorado Mines, 8-0 in league play and 9-0 on the season, wants to close strong for another run in the D-2 playoffs.
Saturday was a good start.
"It was a two-score, three-score game most of the way," Brandon said. "I think if we are fortunate to make the playoffs, we will be challenged in the second half of games, and we were challenged today. They (Hardrockers) always show up and play hard against us, you know, the Engineer Bowl."
Colorado Mines faces Dixie State Saturday and closes at Chadron State, while the Hardrockers, 1-7, 2-7, are at Chadron State Saturday and close at Fort Lewis College.