Story and photo courtesy of CSU-Pueblo Athletics
SILVER CITY, N.M. - Colorado State-Pueblo overcame several missed opportunities against Western New Mexico Saturday with key turnovers and a bruising rushing attack to claim a 35-27 win.
With the win, third-ranked CSU-Pueblo improved to 3-0 on the season, claiming its 18th straight regular season win in the process.
Like it had in each of its previous wins in 2012, the ThunderWolves got itself involved in a high-scoring dogfight and missed opportunities to put its opponent away before finally nailing the coffin down late in the game.
The ThunderWolves experienced that when, after leading 21-20, they seemingly were ready to put the Mustangs away when tailback J.B. Mathews (So., Aurora, Colo.) ran in the final of his school-record four touchdown runs to go up 35-20 in the third quarter. Mathews would finish with 227 rushing yards and over 290 all-purpose yards in his finest collegiate game.
But Western New Mexico marched right down the field, taking just 90 seconds to drive 68 yards down the field and cut the score to 35-27.
After forcing a CSU-Pueblo punt - the first and only punt of the afternoon by the ThunderWolves - the Pack defense came up huge as Nick Henderson (Jr., Berthoud, Colo.) jarred the ball loose from Mustang back John De La Rosa, giving the Pack the ball back at the Western New Mexico 40-yard-line.
After driving a few yards down the field only to see its drive end on a missed field goal attempt, the ensuing drive again ended in despair for the Mustangs and jubilation for the Pack.
Mustang quarterback Mitch Glassman hit receiver Donald Byrd for a huge game, penetrating to the CSU-Pueblo 31-yard-line before inside linebacker and former Western New Mexico starting linebacker Buster Thede (Sr., Arvada, Colo.) forced another fumble, ending the Mustang threat and effectively sealing the game.
The ThunderWolves, however, were very near not being in such a tenuous situation at all. Twice the Pack turned the ball over on downs inside of Western New Mexico territory, and a third time, it ended the half inside the 10-yard-line when Josh Sandoval (Jr., Pueblo, Colo.) tried to stretch out a reception into a touchdown as time expired in the first half.
The ThunderWolves also gave seven points to the Mustangs on an interception - the first of the season by Ross Dausin (Sr., San Antonio, Texas) - as he was picked off deep inside Pack territory, leading to a Mustang score just two plays later during the second quarter, which cut the Pack lead to only 14-13 at the time.
Despite the Pack's struggles to put the game away at opportune times, head coach John Wristen said he continues to be impressed by the team's ability to overcome adversity.
"It was just one of those games," Wristen said. "We had a chance when we went 15 up, but then they get a quick touchdown to make it close, but we found a way to win."
A big key, Wristen said, was obviously the play of Mathews and the Pack offensive line. Mathews' nearly 300 all-purpose yards makes him not only an RMAC Player of the Week candidate, but a Division II Player of the Week candidate, as well.
"He was getting big chunks of yards out there and the offensive line took control," Wristen said. "It really shows how our offense dictated the game."
After the rude awakening to open RMAC play, CSU-Pueblo returns home next weekend for its home RMAC opener against rival Adams State.