PUEBLO, Colo. - After falling down 21-3 early in the first half in their battle with RMAC rival Chadron State, CSU-Pueblo persevered with a thrilling 45-38 overtime win in its homecoming showdown at the Neta & Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl, increasing its regular season winning streak to a national-best 21 in the process.
The Pack stumbled out the gate in all three phases, falling behind 14-0 before even gathering its first first down, but found enough big plays to get back into the game. Senior corner back Mark Sterling (Sr., Colorado Springs, Colo.) shifted the momentum back in favor of the ThunderWolves when he jumped an Eagle route and intercepted Chadron quarterback John McLain late in the first quarter.
Though the Pack was able to finally put points on the board after the Sterling interception, it wasn't a touchdown, which they were in dire need of. After the Pack seemed to be sitting pretty after a 49-yard rush by J.B. Mathews (So., Aurora, Colo.), quarterback Ross Dausin's 3rd-and-goal pass at the Chadron 7-yard-line flew through the hands of Pack receiver Marcial Williamson (Sr., Lakewood, Wash.) and the ThunderWolves settled for a field goal, cutting the lead to 14-3.
CSU-Pueblo continued to have trouble jumping back into the game, but finally turned it into a one-score game as Dausin snuck in for a 1-yard score right before halftime to cut the Chadron lead to 21-16.
After the first half, the real fun began.
Coming out of halftime, the Eagles offense didn't miss a beat, putting another seven points up only 1:30 into the third quarter. But the Pack quickly answered with a score of their own as Mathews scampered 32-yards to make the score 28-23.
Though Mathews had another strong performance with 176 yards and a touchdown, he was forced to leave the game with a foot injury mid-way through the third quarter. Fortunately enough for the Pack, freshman running back Cameron McDondle (Fr., Littleton, Colo.) was able to step in and pick up where Mathews left off.
"We were kind of beat up at the running back position," Wristen said. "That young freshman came in and was able to make some good things happen, so it was nice to see him come in and have some success."
McDondle carried the load of the running game most of the fourth quarter and came up two yards shy of his first 100-yard game as ThunderWolf, ending with 98 yards and two scores.
"This was a huge win for us. It's our red-letter game," McDondle said. "We knew we needed to go out there and get a win. If there is any team that we need to beat, it's Chadron, and we did that. Everyone was pumped up and ready to go."
Though the running game seemed to be business-as-usual, compiling 312 yards on the ground, Dausin had uncharacteristic struggles behind center, especially at key points in the game. Driving for a score after the game was tied 31-31, he threw an interception in the end zone that would have given the Pack a fourth quarter lead. Instead, it gave the Eagles had a chance to take a lead of their own.
Behind its solid running game, which also gained nearly 300 yards against the ThunderWolves, Chadron State drove down the field, culminating in a 47-yard touchdown run by Michael Madkins that put the Eagles up 38-31 with 6:46 left in the game.
With their backs against the wall and failure not an option, Dausin made up for his pick and drove the ThunderWolves down for the tying score. He hit Roger Pfannenschmid (Sr., Pueblo, Colo.) three straight times on slant routes over the middle during the game-tying drive, running it in himself on the quarterback sneak with 1:16 left in regulation to force the overtime.
In the overtime period, it was all Pack. Getting the first chance with the ball, McDondle carried it the distance, breaking runs of 12, 5 and 8 to score the Pack's go-ahead touchdown, giving the ThunderWolves its first lead of the entire game, 45-38.
Then with the momentum, the defense seized its chance to make up for a lackluster game. The big play came on a 3rd-and-4 from the Pack 9-yard-line, when Ben Estica (RFr., Palm Beach, Fla.) blasted through the line and forced McLain to the throw the ball away to avoid a sack, bringing up a go-for-the-goal 4th down, which the Pack held.
The win, the second straight overtime homecoming win at CSU-Pueblo (the ThunderWolves defeated Chadron State 33-30 in triple-overtime at home in 2010) as well as its fourth straight over the Eagles, instantly felt like a signature win for the Pack.
"It is really a mark of our foundation," Wristen said. "I really believe if your foundation is dug deep, you are able to weather the storm and there were a number of storms during the game that we were able to overcome out there today."
The ThunderWolves only get a few moments to feel satisfied about a thrilling win as they travel to Colorado School of Mines this weekend and have some demands to face. The last time the Pack lost a road game, it was two years ago at Mines.