Early lead holds up in Mavericks’ road win at Western State
GUNNISON — Colorado Mesa University needed this one, but it wasn’t easy.
The Mavericks built a lead, then withstood a rally for a 23-20 RMAC victory over a struggling Western State football team on Saturday at the Mountaineer Bowl.
“I definitely think it’s a sign we’re turning the corner,” Colorado Mesa junior Trent deBraga said. “For the past few years, it’s crazy, Western battles us tough every time.
“Besides that last big play we gave up after half, both sides played a hell of a game. We had a special teams meltdown that kind of hurt us. I think the score was closer than what it should’ve been. Our offense played good and our defense stepped up.”
Colorado Mesa (3-6, 2-5 RMAC) led 23-13 late in the game when Western State (1-8, 1-6 RMAC) scored on a 75-yard pass play to get within a field goal with 2:31 left.
The Mountaineers attempted an onside kick, but the Mavericks recovered and picked up a first down to run out the clock.
“We feel good about it,” Mesa quarterback Steve Romero said. “We let them back in the game and gave them life with turnovers and miscommunication on some plays. When you have a rivalry game like this, you don’t want to give them life.”
Colorado Mesa built a sizeable lead with its running game, led by Jake Cimolino, who had 25 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The Mavs’ 294 rushing yards were the second highest this season. They have won all three games when rushing for more than 200 yards as a team.
“We had some great runs in the first half that produced points,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “In the third period, we had some good run action, then they started bringing it a bit more off the edges. We have to continue to pick those things up and get better.”
Cimolino put the Mavs on the board on their second possession of the game with a 22-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
Mesa quickly scored again when Nate Neville caught a 58-yard pass from Steve Romero on Mesa’s next possession. Caleb Pavy’s point-after attempt was blocked by 6-foot-8, 335-pound lineman Ryan Walstrom.
Western’s Mark Jones returned the kickoff 71 yards to set up Lloyd Tucker’s 30-yard field goal with 2:34 left in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged field goals to open the second quarter before Western’s Chase Yaeger scored on a 40-yard pass from Nick Edwards.
Mesa led 16-13 at halftime.
Mesa’s defense forced Western to go three and out to open the second half.
The Mavericks moved into Western territory, but faced a fourth-and-10 at the 36.
Mesa faked the punt, with Trent deBraga rushing 17 yards for a first down.
“We’ve been thinking about it all year,” deBraga said. “(Special teams coach Miles Kochevar) said, ‘let’s run it.’ We knew it was going to be there. I trusted my linemen. I was able to hit the gap, get a first down and set up a score.”
“Everybody is bringing it to us with Jake (Edmiston) out,” Ramunno said. “We had to do some things to counter it. We had decent field position and felt comfortable doing that.”
Jon Ellsworth is handling the long-snapping duties for Mesa with Edmiston out with injuries.
Wide receiver Tanner Whaley had a 10-yard carry, setting up Cimolino’s 3-yard touchdown run with 5:50 left for a 23-13 lead.
Tucker’s 52-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter was wide left.
The Mountaineers drove deep into Mesa territory on their next possession, but a fumble ended the drive, with Mike Garza recovering for the Mavericks.
Western State tried a 49-yard field goal on its next possession, but Tucker’s attempt was wide left.
The Mountaineers had one more shot and made the most of it, with quarterback Jamie Jensen completing a 75-yard pass to Lukas Adams for a score.
“We played well overall (on defense),” Ramunno said. “Coach (Darin) Robidoux did an excellent job of getting everyone in position. That one touchdown they threw we were in position, but we jumped up thinking run.
“I have a lot of guys getting better. Each week those guys get better. They give great effort, which we’ve got to have. I’m proud of those guys.”