Colorado School of Mines hosted the No. 9 team in DII football Saturday afternoon at Marv Kay Stadium. When the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard, the Orediggers held on for the upset over Colorado State-Pueblo, 35-21.
The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference showdown pitted two of the more impressive offenses in DII against each other. The ThunderWolves entered the game with the best rushing offense in DII football, piling up 390.5 yards per game through their first two outings. The Orediggers rolled in with their offense cruising, averaging 45.5 points per game over their first two contests. New quarterback Isaac Harker had already found chemistry with veteran wide receiver Brody Oliver, connecting for 372 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018.
By the end of Saturday's battle, however, it was the defenses that made the biggest impact.
It started right out of the gate, as a matter of fact. Colorado State-Pueblo’s defense got the scoring started on the very first pass of the game, as Kyle Rosenbrock picked off a Harker pass and took it 23 yards to the house. Then the fireworks started. Explosive Mines running back Cameron Mayberry exploded for a 70-yard touchdown, and after another Harker-to-Oliver touchdown connection, Mayberry erupted again for a 58-yard touchdown. When the dust settled, the first quarter was everything that was expected from this offensive shootout, Mines leading 21-14.
But then, the defenses took over. Both teams were blanked in the second quarter and the lone third quarter score was a fumble recovery for a touchdown by the Orediggers. Colorado State-Pueblo entered the fourth quarter with a mountain to climb down 14, as neither of these two teams had allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown this season.
But that’s why we love RMAC football.
Another big defensive stop by Mines, this one ending with Logan Braden picking up a fumble and taking it into Pack territory, set the Orediggers up for Mayberry's third touchdown of the day. But back came the Pack. A huge 68-yard touchdown run and catch by Bernard McDondle brought the ThunderWolves within two scores once again, and a big defensive stop and short punt left CSU-Pueblo knocking on the doorstep once again.
The ThunderWolves had four shots starting at the Mines 10 yard line, but couldn't break into the end zone. A huge fourth down stop sealed the deal. The upset was in the books.
There was no question entering Saturday’s showdown that the Orediggers were a good team. What they showed against Colorado State-Pueblo is that they are a complete team. The Mines defense entered the game allowing just 13.5 points per game, but the ThunderWolves offense was going to be their first big test of the season. That defense answered the call, forcing turnovers and holding the top-ranked rushing attack to 112 yards on the ground. Harker, the reigning RMAC Player of the Week, had his worst day as an Oredigger, so Mayberry stepped up and pounded out 203 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. The offense has depth and is able to hurt you in many different ways, while the defense clearly understands adjusting and attacking an opponent’s strength.
Why was this game so big? Colorado Mines now has a step up in a conference that has itself, CSU-Pueblo and Colorado Mesa lingering around the nation’s top 25. The ThunderWolves now hit the road to take on the defending DII football champions, No. 1 Texas A&M-Commerce, while the Orediggers now carry momentum into their contest against the top-scoring team in the division, New Mexico Highlands. With homecoming looming at Marv Kay for Colorado Mines against No. 19 Colorado Mesa the following week, this is a make-or-break three-game stretch for Mines.
They just got started on the right foot. And that could mean trouble for the RMAC.