KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- John Wristen’s Colorado State-Pueblo ThunderWolves tamed first-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato 13-0 on Saturday night in Kansas City, Kansas, to win the NCAA Division II national championship.
Wristen’s football program at CSU-Pueblo didn’t exist as early as 2007, when he was hired as coach and given the task of hiring an entire coaching staff and recruiting a brand new class of players.
“I’m real lucky to be a part of this. These guys are special. Our defense was outstanding and our offense made the plays they needed to do to win this game,” Wristen said after the game. “We’re here and we finished it. Credit to these kids. That was one heck of a game.”
In the second quarter, MSU-Mankato kicker Alden Haffar’s field goal attempt was blocked by CSU-Pueblo defensive end Josh Bredl and recovered by cornerback Stephan Dickens. On the ensuing drive, the scoring opened as ThunderWolves kicker Greg O’Donnell grabbed the lead with a field goal.
“That was a big momentum changer. I think right there in that first part of the game, we got going there,” Wristen said. “Any time that our defense helps us get points, you’ve got a chance to win the ball game.”The game’s only touchdown also came in the second quarter, as CSU-Pueblo quarterback Chris Bonner found Paul Browning in the end zone to make it 10-0.
“I just saw a good matchup with Paul. Every time I’ve seen that all year I know I’m going to him,” Bonner said. “I know if I give him a chance he’ll go up and get it. It was a well-executed play with good blocking up front.”
Bonner recorded 191 passing yards on the day.
The game was a defensive battle. Both defenses made it difficult for either team to start putting points on the board.
“We just couldn’t get off the ball and couldn’t get anything going,” MSU-Mankato quarterback Ricky Lloyd said. “We couldn’t get anything going early and we weren’t able to sustain any of our drives.”
The ThunderWolves were pushed further to victory with 113 rushing yards from running back Cameron McDondle. McDondle’s performance helped him surpass 2,000 yards rushing for the season.
“I am actually still speechless toward the whole thing right now,” McDondle said of the win. “I’m just trying to let the emotions catch up, we knew we had to take it a play at a time and now that plays are done, I don’t really know how to feel.”
Browning, a senior, reflected on what the win meant to the community in Pueblo, Colorado.
“To be able to come through and end like this is beautiful,” Browning said. “It’s not only for us, it’s for everybody that was able to help bring this program back. This is for all the friends of football and the city of Pueblo for allowing this to happen.”
Wristen tried to sum up his team’s championship in one word: “special.”
“In teaching and coaching, you never get to start something from scratch,” Wristen said. “I wanted to be part of bringing something special to Pueblo, Colorado. I don’t know if there’s a secret recipe or anything that’s been done special. We just put our head down and go to work, we’re a blue collar town, a steel mill town in Pueblo.”