It's not often that one can say a loss is a statement game for a football program, but the ThunderWolves proved Saturday in a narrow 21-14 overtime loss to Colorado Mines that they are not to be regarded as a typical first-year program.
The ThunderWolves fought to the very last snap, casually sloughing off a high-octane Mines offense with a bend-but-don't-break defense, and countering with an offense that seemed to find its identity with two new faces, quarterback Joe Vigil (RFr., Littleton, Colo.) and receiver Aromous Robinson (Jr., Lakewood, Colo.).
Vigil, who was elevated to the starting quarterback position following an injury to starter Bobby Washington (So., Colorado Springs, Colo.), stepped in and led the ThunderWolves from the get-go. The 5-foot-8 speedy signal caller was accurate passing the ball, and stared down a tenacious Mines pass rush to have an outstanding day, completing 22-for-34 for 199 yards, tossing two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 22 completions in a single game were a school record - not bad for the first start of his career.
Also joining Vigil in the lineup was Robinson, who was only declared eligible to play Friday after finally working out a credit transfer from his junior college, Western Arizona, and immediately emerged as a go-to receiver for Vigil.
It wasn't any more evident than in the fourth quarter, when trailing 14-7 with just 28 seconds remaining, Vigil connected with Robinson for a 35-yard touchdown that tied the game at 14, forcing an overtime and putting momentum squarely in the hands of the ThunderWolves.
In the overtime period, Mines, which showed an inability to score touchdowns in the red zone all game long, took advantage and drove for a score by a skin of their teeth, with Mines' Blake Sumner, a 315-pound lineman, took the ball in for a touchdown on a 4th and goal try from the ThunderWolf one-yard-line. The touchdown followed three straight plays in which the Orediggers were stuffed at the goal-line.
The ThunderWolves weren't as lucky in the overtime period, driving down to the 8-yard-line before Mines deflected two consecutive Vigil passes to escape with a win.
Mines' offensive performance, which saw quarterback David Pesek pass for 332 yards in a 31-for-44 performance, was diffused by the Pack defense, which registered six sacks, including two by Lee Meisner (Fr., Sterling, Colo.) and one by cornerback Jerome Page (Fr., Aurora, Colo.), who led the ThunderWolves with 12 tackles along with Brandon Williams (Jr., Avondale, Ariz.), who also registered 12.
But don't tell CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen that Saturday's loss was a moral victory - the ThunderWolves did have every chance to pull off the upset, Wristen said.
"I'm not in to moral victories," Wristen said. "We're in it to win it."
"The defense had an outstanding effort, and everybody did a great job, but we still came up short in a game we could have won."
The loss drops the Pack to 2-2 on the season and 1-2 in RMAC play while Mines improves to 4-1 overall and 3-0 in RMAC play. The ThunderWolves will continue the "murderer's row" portion of their schedule as they welcome Nebraska-Kearney to the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl Saturday before travelling to Grand Junction for a showdown with Mesa State.