PUEBLO, Colo. (GoThunderWolves.com - Dec. 1, 2012) - The old sports adage says that it's tough to beat a team twice in one season.
Saturday, as #1-ranked CSU-Pueblo hosted West Texas A&M in a rematch of the 2012 season opener, the ThunderWolves never quite found their footing while West Texas A&M turned in their game of the year as the Pack saw its season end 34-13 in the NCAA Division II Quarterfinals.
"Obviously everyone wants to end their season by winning the last game," said ThunderWolves Head Coach John Wristen. "Give West Texas credit, they had a great scheme against us and executed to a tee."
The game was defined by the Buffaloes' early offensive successes, namely its 74-yard touchdown pass from Dustin Vaughan to Nathan Slaughter that began the Buffs' onslaught.
By halftime, the Buffs had gone up 24-3, then sealed the game on a key turnover.
In the third quarter, Ross Dausin (Sr., San Antonio, Texas) was sacked then fumbled as the ball was returned 26 yards for a touchdown by the Buffs Ethan Westbrooks. The Westbrooks touchdown made the score 34-6, taking the wind out of the Pack's comeback hopes.
"We had trouble executing," said the senior quarterback after the last game of his college career. "Like coach said they did a great job of getting after us on both sides of the ball."
A significant difference in the running game was the story for the ThunderWolves on offense. In the first meeting of 2012, the Pack had 265 rushing yards. This time around, the Pack had just 32, a season low.
"I think sometimes in the run game it's all about desire," said Wristen. "I think their desire and will was really special today, they did a really good job of beating us on the one-on-one battles."
In addition to one-on-one battles, missed opportunities and West Texas A&M's ability to take advantage of mistakes typified the game.
Near the end of the second quarter, after another three-and-out by the Pack offense, Brandon Kliesen's (Jr., Pueblo, Colo.) punt was partially blocked, his first blocked punt of his career, setting the Buffs up with good field position. On the first play of the second quarter, the Buffs increased their lead to 14-0 on a 13-yard screen pass that went for a touchdown.
Down 14-0, the ThunderWolves needed points on the board. They began to pick up a couple of first downs, however the drive fizzled out making them settle for a field goal.
"When you are in a heavyweight game like this you need to score touchdowns," said Wristen. "When you play in the elite eight, you better bring it. You don't get any second chances."
They just couldn't stop the Buffs passing game though. With 3:04 left in the half West Texas increased their lead to 21-3 on a 1-yard touchdown pass.
CSU-Pueblo didn't get into the end zone until it was too late. Josh Sandoval (Jr., Pueblo, Colo.) caught a pass from Dausin to make the score a little more respectable at 34-13.
CSU-Pueblo's season ends, though, with a flurry of firsts and records. The ThunderWolves earned a program-best 12 wins, which also ties a win record for any RMAC program in a season. CSU-Pueblo will also likely set a program best for final national ranking once the year-end poll is released. Its Division II high was a ranking of 9th in 2011 and a ranking of 5th while it was an NAIA school in 1982.