Team effort lifts No. 14 Pack past Mavericks, 36-14

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. A complete team effort, with highlights from all phases of the game, guided the No. 14 Colorado State University-Pueblo football team to a 36-14 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference road win at Colorado Mesa University. The contest was featured as a NCAA Division II Showcase Game.

The ThunderWolves (6-1, 5-1 RMAC) started a little slow against the Mavericks (4-3, 3-3 RMAC), but a 14-point second quarter had the road team ahead 17-7 at the break. Ahead by eight, 22-14, heading to the fourth quarter, the Pack scored early in the fourth and found the end zone again late to secure the victory.

The CSU-Pueblo defense allowed a touchdown on the second play of the game, a 65-yard pass play that put the Mavericks ahead 7-0. The ThunderWolves followed by playing shutdown defense and forcing five punts and a turnover on downs, recovering fumble, and producing a safety on the home team's next eight possessions. The second CMU touchdown came midway through the third quarter and was setup by another 60-plus yard reception. Minus those two big plays, the Pack held Colorado Mesa, who were playing without its starting quarterback, in check.

The Pack allowed 346 yards of offense, but just 104 on the ground. The ThunderWolves did what they do best and produced four turnovers, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Entering the game the Pack ranked No. 2 in Division II in turnovers gained (now have 24 total turnovers), No. 4 in interceptions (now with 13) and No. 8 in fumbles recovered (now with 10). CSU-Pueblo also got the in the backfield and totaled 11 tackles for loss (-47 yards) with five sacks (-30 yards). The ThunderWolves were No. 3 in DII entering the game in tackles for loss.

The starting defensive lineman, inside linebackers and senior outside linebacker Noor Shongolo (Commerce City, Colo.) were relentless and combined for 44 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, a break-up and a safety.

Junior inside linebacker Kyle Rosenbrock (Brush, Colo.) totaled 10 tackles (four solo) with two sacks (-11 yards), while junior defensive end Jackson Wibbels (Colorado Springs, Colo.) also compiled 10 tackles (three solo) with 2.5 tackles for loss (-9 yards) and a sack (-8 yards). Shongolo totaled nine tackles (two solo) with 1.5 tackles for loss (-4 yards). Both senior inside linebacker Brandon Payer (Pine, Colo.) and senior nose guard Deyon Sizer (Auora, Colo.) recorded six tackles. Payer forced a fumble and recovered two fumbles, while adding a tackle for loss (-4 yards). Sizer gathered 2.5 tackles for loss (-10 yards), which included 1.5 sacks (-8 yards). He recorded a solo sack in the end zone to produce the safety. Senior defensive end Michael Wristen (Broomfield, Colo.) added three tackles (one solo) with a half sack (-3 yards) and a break-up.

The offense was able to move the ball when they needed to and converted on 50 percent (11-for-22) of their third down opportunities. The Pack also capitalized on the defensive turnovers by scoring 17 points off the Mavericks miscues, while not turning the ball over themselves. CSU-Pueblo totaled 314 yards with 195 on the ground. Junior Austin Micci (Colorado Springs, Colo.) totaled 107 yards and a score. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry, which was aided by a fourth quarter 62-yard run to set-up a Marcus Lindsay (R-Fr., Aurora, Colo.) touchdown. Nine different players carried the ball, which included the return of Bernard McDondle (Sr., Littleton, Colo.), w ho had missed the previous three games.

Senior Brandon Edwards (Bothell, Wash.) went 14-for-33 for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Edwards got the big-body wide receivers involved, as Nick Williams (R-Fr., Aurora, Colo.), at 6-foot-4, led the team with four receptions for 24 yards and his first collegiate touchdown. Ammon Johnson (Jr., Denver, Colo.), at 6-foot-4, caught his first touchdown of the season (34-yarder) and had two receptions for a team-high 48 yards.

Despite missing his first attempt of 30 yards, sophomore kicker Mitchell Carter (Colorado Springs, Colo.) totally redeemed himself by connecting on a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter, then knocking through a career-long 50-yard field goal in the third quarter. It was the longest field goal by a member of the Pack since Greg O'Donnell connected on a 53-yarder against New Mexico Highlands University on Nov. 9, 2013. Carter entered the game as the league leader in field goals made, while his 1.5 field goals per game was No. 4 nationally.

Punter Tanner Cuda (Castle Pines, Colo.) totaled 334 yards on seven punts to average 47.7 yards per kick. His long went for 66 yards and flipped the field on the Mavericks. On the ensuing possession, senior Jadon Garcia (S, San Jose, Calif.) pulled down the first of his two interceptions on the day to set up the Pack's early fourth quarter score. Cuda entered today's contest ranked No. 6 in NCAA Division II in yards per punt (44.0).

The Mavericks took the ball first and in two plays were leading 7-0. CSU-Pueblo responded with a long drive that resulted in a missed field goal. Carter connected on his second opportunity, which was setup by Payer ripping the ball from the Maverick running back and returning the fumble to the CMU 18. The Pack trailed 7-3 after the first, but scores from Johnson and Micci (3 yard run) handed the road team a 17-7 lead at the half.

In the first four minutes of the third the Pack led 22-7 after Carter's 50-yarder and a team safety. The whole Pack defensive line created the pressure and Sizer cleaned it up for the sack in the end zone. CMU scored midway through the third to make it a one possession game at 22-14, but the pick by Garcia at the tail end of the frame resulted in the Williams 3-yard touchdown just 46 ticks into the fourth. Lindsay's score from one yard out with 2:32 to play was the icing on the road victory cake.

CSU-Pueblo will remain on the road Oct. 20 when it travels to Adams State University (4-3, 4-3 RMAC) for a 1 p.m. showdown in Alamosa, Colorado.