A play or two going the Hardrockers' way would have ended, at least for now, the fourth-quarter blues for the South Dakota School of Mines football team.
But the song remains the same to open the 2019 season, as Colorado Mesa University scored the only points of the final quarter and rallied past the Hardrockers 37-33 Saturday in Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference action on Dunham Field at O'Harra Stadium.
Last season Mines lost four games by four points or less, including a three-point loss to these same Mavericks. Saturday, the 'Rockers led by as much as 17 points in the first half and held a three-point advantage heading to the fourth.
Mines still had a chance in the end, but Mesa sophomore linebacker Greyson Matalus stepped in front of a Spencer Zur pass on the goal line with six seconds remaining to end the Hardrocker comeback bid.
Mines had many chances to win the back-and-forth battle, missing one field goal, having two passes intercepted in the end zone, with another pass dropped in the end zone that eventually led to a field goal.
A couples of minutes prior to that game-ending play, Mines had another golden opportunity, taking over on downs near midfield when Mesa went for it on fourth down and had an incomplete pass.
But the Hardrockers couldn't move the football, and in fact, lost the ball on a fumble.
"We just missed too many opportunities. That was probably the story of the whole deal," Mines coach Zach Tinker said.
After Zur led Mines to the end zone on its first possession on a 7-yard TD run, the Hardrocker defense took over with two scores — a 14-yard fumble recovery for a score by Marwin Alapati and a 42-yard interception return by Dominick Jackson.
It was a boost for the Mines defense, senior defensive back Steven Nolasco said.
"Coming off of last season, we weren't great as a young defense," Nolasco said. "This year we are seeing signs of special. It is up in the air. We have to go up every week and grab it."
But the momentum didn't last long, as Mesa responded with three straight scores — a 28-yard run touchdown run by Isaac Maestas, an 82-yard TD pass from Hayden Bollinger to Peter Anderson and a 25-yard field goal by Lucas Ruix-Diaz. Suddenly the game was tied at 20-20.
But Mines responded with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Zur to freshman running back Ahmad Lewis. Mesa would get another field goal by Ruiz-Diaz from 47 yards with no time left to make it a 27-23 'Rocker lead at halftime.
"I was impressed that our players showed some resolve because there was a period there in the second quarter where I felt like we were letting the game get away from us, then we came back and got a score," Tinker said.
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The Hardrockers added to their lead with a 42-yard field goal by junior Enis Sefa, but Mesa resonded with a 1-yard Maestas touchdown to tie the game at 30-30 with nine minutes remaining in the third.
Sefa again kicked a 26-yard field go to put the 'Rockers back in front 33-30 going into the fourth. Mines missed out on four more points on that drive when Zur's pass to his brother, Collins Zur, couldn't be corralled in the end zone for a sure touchdown.
The winning score came at 9:28 to play on a 6-yard pass from Howard to Anderson, capping an 11-play, 62-yard drive.
On the Hardrockers' final drive they faced a 4th and 18 on their own 34 with 1:38 to play, and Zur threw to tight end Ira Murpehy, with caught it and pitched it back to Joe Luebbers for a 21-yard gain. Murphey also had a 19-yard reception to the Mesa 15 yard-line, setting up that final play.
Spencer Zur said he was trying to get the ball over the Mesa linebacker to his receiver, who he said made a good play.
"He's athletic, and I tested him and he won. Hats off to him," Zur said. "Their defense played a great game."
A sophomore, Zur was making his first start of his career and showed flashes, competing 21-of-38 passes for 239 yards and one touchdown. But he also had three interceptions, including two in the end zone.
"We just have a couple little things to clean up. We're really close; just a couple of assignments that aren't going right and a couple of mis-reads. Just a couple of plays didn't go our way today. It happens sometimes," he said. "We're going to come back Monday and learn from it and hopefully be better, and go beat Western next Saturday."
Lewis, also in his first start as a Hardrocker, had 107 yards rushing on 26 carries and the team ran for 139 yards overall. Tom Creese came in for a couple of series when Zur had a leg cramp, was 3-of-10 for 39 yards.
Collin Zur led the way with six receptions for 41 yards, while Luebbers added five catches for 68 yards and Murphey four receptions for 32 yards.
Cole Peterson had a huge game defensively for Mines with 17 tackles (nine solo), while Bryan Akunna added 10 stops.
"Everybody was out there fighting," Nolasco said. "In the first game of the season, I couldn't have asked for anything else; everybody was fighting. We just fell short."
Maestas had 98 yards rushing for Mesa and two touchdowns. The Mavericks ran for 186 yards as a team. Mesa played three quarterbacks, with Bollinger 12-of-26 for 294 yards, one TD and one interception, Rope Ruel 3-of-8 for 48 yards and one interception and Howard 5-of-7 for 33 yards and one TD. Overall, Mesa was 20-of-31 passing for 375 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
The Hardrockers will hit the road to face Western Colorado in Gunnison, Colo., while Mesa hosts Eastern New Mexico