Story and photo courtesy of Chadron State Athletics
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – Chadron State gave up big plays during the opening three quarters but found several of its own in the final 15 minutes to escape with a 41-30 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference victory over Colorado Mesa University Saturday.
The Eagles lost 14-point leads twice, in large part due to Mesa's opportunistic plays, but Nathan Ross caught touchdown passes of 38 and 54 yards in the final nine minutes to help CSC pull out the win in its conference opener.
“This was an emotional game for some guys and it's good for us to come out and get the win,” head coach Jay Long said. “We had a good day offensively and the guys on defense and special teams played terrifically hard. My hat is off to them.”
Things were clicking for Chadron State and its no huddle offense early as they marched 47 yards in 11 plays that took just 3:32 off the clock.
The Eagles, who gained 552 yards in the game and executed 88 plays, gained four first downs on the opening drive before Jonn McLain found Cody Roes in the back of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.
Following a three and out, Trelan Taylor returned the Mavericks' punt for 29 yards and it took just two plays for the Eagles to score.
McLain, who finished the contest completing 30 of 40 passes for 324 yards and four touchdowns, opened the drive with a 23-yard pass to Ross and then hit Roes, who had six catches for 76 yards, in the flat for an 18-yard touchdown to give CSC a 14-0 advantage.
However, the Mavericks' returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards to the Chadron State 25-yard line and Jake Cimolino plunged into the end zone three plays later from four yards out.
The Eagles punted on their next drive and then Mesa tied things up at 14-14 when quarterback Deke Cisco found Austin Rodriguez wide open down the sideline for a 69-yard TD.
In the second quarter, though, the Eagles found their ground game and tailbacks Glen Clinton and Michael Madkins each capped off long drives with touchdown runs.
Clinton scored from five yards out to end a 13-play, 69-yard drive and Madkins scored from two yards out to put an exclamation point on a 7-play, 74-yard drive.
Both Clinton and Madkins had strong days carrying the ball. Clinton, who has now rushed for over 2,000 yards in his career, had 22 carries for 96 yards and Madkins had 12 carries for 93.
The Mavericks didn't wilt, though, and late in the first half Michael Brady intercepted a pass from McLain on fourth down that he returned for a 75-yard TD, cutting the lead to 28-20 at halftime.
Chadron State then opened the first half on a sour note by fumbling on its own 30. Mesa took advantage and six plays later, Cisco ran in for a 2-yard score.
The Mavericks continued their strong play and took their only lead of the game early on in the fourth when Alex Zemezonak kicked an 18-yard field goal, putting them up 30-27.
But then the big plays the Eagles were looking for entire game, finally happened. McLain hit Ross, who had eight receptions for 148 yards, on a 37-yard TD pass on the ensuing drive to give CSC a 34-30 lead.
On the next Mesa possession, the Eagles' defense came up big again and recorded their fifth three and out of the game to get the ball back.
McLain and Ross knew what to do with it and the sophomore quarterback from Chadron connected with Ross on a 54-yard touchdown pass down the near sideline to wrap things up.
Defensively, Taylor led the Eagles with 10 tackles and Kevin Lindholm and Pierre Etchemendy each had seven. Lindholm, who went over 200 career tackles, also added a sack.
The Eagles, now 2-1, have defeated Colorado Mesa nine years in a row. They'll host Western State for Family Day Saturday at noon.