KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Colorado State-Pueblo capped a storybook season by blanking Minnesota State-Mankato 13-0 to win its first NCAA Division II National Championship in program history. The ThunderWolves' defense was the story of the game, shutting out a Mavericks' offense which came into the game ranked seventh in the nation in scoring offense at 42.9 points per game.
The win caps a school-record 14-1 season for CSU-Pueblo and gives the university its first Division II National Championship in any sport. The shutout was the first in the national title game since 1997 when Northern Colorado blanked New Haven 51-0.
Top-ranked MSU-Mankato (14-1) ran into a brick wall in the form of the CSU-Pueblo defense. The Pack held the Mavericks to 265 yards of total offense, which was 194.9 yards below their season average. Minnesota State came into the contest averaging 251.4 yards on the ground, but was held to just 105 yards by the stingy ThunderWolves' defense.
Two-time Gene Upshaw Award winner Darius Allen led the Pack defense with eight tackles and 1.5 sacks. LaRon Tarkington, Seth Brown and Joe Rosenbrock each matched Allen with eight tackles apiece. Josh Bredl added a sack and a blocked field goal for the ThunderWolves.Offensively, Cameron McDondle finished the game with 113 yards on 28 carries for CSU-Pueblo. The 100-yard game was McDondle's 11th in his past 12 games. Quaterback Chris Bonner completed 17 of 30 pass attempts for 191 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Paul Browning was Bonner's top target, hauling in five receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown.
After the Thunderwolves missed a field goal, MSU-Mankato answered with a lengthy possession of its own. The Mavericks drove 50 yards on 16 plays but the CSU-Pueblo defense held up, stopping Minnesota State at the 11-yard line, setting up a 27-yard field goal attempt by Alden Haffar. The ThunderWolves' special teams unit came up with another big play on the season as Bredl burst through the line and blocked the kick. Stephan Dickens scooped up the loose ball and returned it 13 yards to the CSU-Pueblo 37.
Bredl's block set up the first score of the game for the ThunderWolves. Greg O'Donnell capped a 10-play 53-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal, putting the Pack on top, 3-0, with 7:21 remaining until halftime. McDondle had the big play on the drive, scampering 34 yards all the way down to the Maverick 20.
After another strong defensive stand, CSU-Pueblo took possession at its own 31 with 5:30 left in the first half. For the second consecutive drive, the ThunderWolves marched the ball down the field into Minnesota State territory. On third and five from the Mavericks' 18-yard line, Bonner dropped back in the pocket and lofted a pass toward the back corner of the end zone to Browning, who out-battled the defender and snatched the ball out of the air for the touchdown. An O'Donnell extra point put the Pack on top 10-0 heading into the locker room.
The Pack extended their lead on their first drive of the second half. McDondle shouldered the load on the drive, breaking off a 19-yard run and taking a pass from Bonner 30 yards to help set up O'Donnell's second field goal of the game. O'Donnell's 24-yard field goal put CSU-Pueblo in front 13-0.
That lead was more than enough for the ThunderWolves' defense. Minnesota State never advanced past the CSU-Pueblo 42 and didn't threaten to score for the entirety of the second half.
After the Pack halted the Mavericks on their final drive of the game, CSU-Pueblo took over possession at its own 40. On the fourth play of the drive, McDondle barreled his way for 15 yards, pushing him over the 2,000-yard mark for the season -- the first player in program history to eclipse that milestone.