BY: CON MARSHALL
CSC Sports Information
It was a tale of two halves Saturday when the Chadron State Eagles took a 24-3 halftime lead, but the Colorado Mesa Mavericks outscored the hosts 28-7 in the second half to tie the score at 31-31 with 22 seconds remaining in regulation and then won the game 38-37 in overtime.
The Mavericks had first possession in overtime, and, on the third play, scored on a 19-yard pass from quarterback Gavin Herberg to a wide open Jacob Whitmer in the right side of the end zone. It was the Mavs' first lead since they were ahead 3-0 lead midway in the first period. Lucas Ruiz-Diaz kicked the extra point that proved to be the winning point.
Chadron State used six plays to score its overtime touchdown. Massive tailback Jalen Starks leaped into the end zone from two yards out for the score. Before that he'd also rushed three times for 18 yards during the 25-yard drive.
During Starks' TD, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on a Mesa State player. That put the ball on the 1 ½-yard line for the conversion attempt, so the Eagles decided to go for two points.
Starks got the hand off again, but was immediately met by a couple of Mavericks, who downed him shy of the goal line, ending the game.
"It came down to that last play," Chadron State Coach Jay Long said. "It was a heartbreaker for our guys and particularly the 15 seniors who were playing their last game at home. I feel horrible for them. If we'd scored on that play, we'd all be feeling great now, but we didn't."
It was Chadron State's 12th overtime game. The most recent was two years ago when Ruiz-Diaz booted a 38-yard field goal to give Mesa a 10-7 win in Grand Junction.
Twenty years ago this fall, when the Eagles were playing their third overtime game, they won 31-30 in Grand Junction when linebacker Amos Davis blocked the Mavericks' extra point attempt in the second extra session.
Chadron State is now 6-6 in its OT contests.
Both teams have won three times this fall. The Eagles are 3-5 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Mavericks are 2-6.
While Mesa scored first in Saturday's game on a Ruiz-Diaz's 40-yard field goal midway in the first period, the Eagles dominated the remainder of the opening half both offensively and defensively.
Chadron State tied the score when Gunnar Jones kicked a 22-yard field goal with 2:42 left in the first period. It was set up when Grant Swenson threw a wobbly end-around pass to fellow wideout Tommy Thomas for a 29-yard gain.
The Eagles posted three touchdowns in the second period to build their 24-3 halftime bulge.
Starks scored the first and third TDs on runs of one and three yards, sandwiched around a 12-yard pass from quarterback Heath Beemiller to wide receiver Ahlonte Hair.
The first scoring drive was comprised of six running plays, none of them longer than eight yards, after Mesa was called for roughing the passer.
The second drive involved 10 plays for 63 yards that opened with two Beemiller-to-Hair passes for 17 yards and included three rushes by Dorian Collier for 26 yards before Hair caught the touchdown toss in the end zone.
The Eagles also scored two minutes before halftime on a 49-yard drive that featured Beemiller's passes of 14 yards to Ali Musa and 18 yards to Ro Ambercrombie, to set the pins for Starks' three-yard romp up the middle.
Along with the three-touchdown lead on the scoreboard, Chadron State owned a 232-to-31-yard margin in total offense at halftime. Much of that was because the Eagles' defense had sacked the Mavericks' two alternate quarterbacks—Kia'l Keone and Gavin Herberg--seven times for 40 yards in losses, and the passes they completed netted just 46 yards.
Keone and Herberg got the call because Mesa's primary quarterback, Karst Hunter, who had completed 162 of the Mavs' 182 passes in the first eight games this fall, was on the trip but did not suit up for the game.
The complexion of the game was much different in the second half. The Mesa quarterbacks threw some crisp passes adding up to more than 300 yards and Eagles never sacked them again.
Keone started the second half at quarterback, and before long, he connected with Keenan Brown on a 46-yard strike for the Mavs' first touchdown. Herberg was the signal caller four minutes later when he threw a 47-yard linedrive to Whitmer for another TD. Both passes were into the brisk west wind and the receivers were on the run when they made over-the-shoulder catches. Suddenly the score was 24-17.
The Eagles retaliated late in the third frame by going 47 yards in 10 plays after Thomas returned the kickoff 28 yards. The big gainer was an 18-yard pass to Swenson. Five plays later, Beemiller rolled out and fired a dart that Swenson caught in the end zone for a six-yard touchdown. CSC was back on top by two touchdowns.
However, 15 seconds into the fourth quarter, Harberg found Brown wide open and hit him with a 36-yard TD pass.
After the Eagles' next drive stalled when a high snap from center forced Beemiller to retrieve the ball behind him for a 12-yard loss and necessitated a punt. The Mavericks reached the Eagles' 25 when safety Harvey Reynolds intercepted Herberg's pass and returned it 20 yards to the original line of scrimmage.
Neither team could sustain its next drive, and the RMAC rivals traded punts. Jones's boot into the wind went out of bounds in the coffin corner, forcing Mesa to take possession at its own two-yard line. It looked as if the Eagles had the Mavs right where they wanted them.
But on the first play, Herberg, throwing out of the end zone, hit the talented Brown, who made a diving catch at midfield for a 48-yard gain. Next, Herberg completed a 29-yard toss to tight end Jacob Whitmer at the CSC 19.
With the clock running down, things got dicey.
Mesa continued to drive and picked up a first and goal at the Eagles' eight. With just over a minute remaining, Mesa's Myles Newble attempted to run wide. CSC linebacker Joey Geil sniffed out the play and grabbed him for a 12-yard loss. Even though Newble is a running back and was not injured, a referee assessed the Eagles for a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty, moving the ball back to the CSC six.
Following an incomplete pass and a one-yard completion, Chadron State was called for pass interference, giving the visitors a first and goal at the two. The first three plays went for naught before Herberg ran straight ahead and dove into the end zone for the touchdown with 22 seconds left. After Ruiz-Diaz added the extra point, the game was headed for overtime.
Mesa finished with 438 total net yards, gaining 407 of them in the second half. The Mavs managed just 34 yards rushing, but Herberg completed 20 of 31 passes for 296 yards and Keone eight of 13 for 106. Brown caught 10 of the passes for 195 yards while Whitmer grabbed six the 120 to go with their two touchdowns apiece.
The Eagles had 370 total yards, including 150 yards rushing. Collier carried 13 times for 90 yards and Starks 22 for 69. Beemiller completed 24 of 36 passes for 191 yards. Thomas caught six for 68 and Hair six for 57.
Both teams had some busy tacklers. Freshman linebacker Ritchie McCormack paced the Eagles with 10 while Geil made nine, Hunter O'Connor seven and Brendan Brehmer and Reynolds both with six.
Liban Shongolo led Mesa with 12, followed by Siaosi Finau with 10 and Kaden Stewart and Nathan Derrick with nine.
The Eagles will conclude their season this coming Saturday by playing at South Dakota Mines
First Downs 23 24
Total Net Yards 438 370
Rushes, Yards 33-34 50-150
Passing Yards 404 220
Passing 38-45-2 25-37-0
Return Yards 29 78
Punts, Average 3-41 6-33.3
Fumbles, Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties, Yards 6-76 5-35
Colorado Mesa 3 0 14 14 7 ---38
Chadron State 3 21 7 0 6 ---37
CMU—Lucas Ruiz-Diaz 40 field goal
CSC—Gunnar Jones 22 field goal
CSC—Jalen Starks 1 run (Jones kick)
CSC—Ahlonte Hair 12 pass from Heath Beemiller (Jones kick)
CSC—Starks 3 run (Jones kick)
CSM—Keenan Brown 46 pass from Kai'l Keone (Ruiz-Diaz kick)
CSM—Jacob Whitmer 36 pass from Gavin Herberg (Ruiz Diaz kick)
CSC—Grant Swenson 6 pass from Beemiller (Jones kick)
CSM—Brown 36 pass from Herberg (Ruiz-Diaz kick)
CSM—Herberg 2 run (Ruiz-Diaz kick)
CSM—Whitmer 19 pass from Herberg (Ruiz-Diaz kick)
CSC—Starks 3 run (run failed)