Mavericks fall despite Cimolino’s huge game

Colorado Mesa University’s Trent de Braga, 6, glances back over his shoulder at New Mexico Highlands defensive back Tyson Stephens as he picks up yardage on a breakaway during the first half of Saturday’s loss at Stocker Stadium. Stephens eventually pulled de Braga down a few yards short of the end zone, but Colorado Mesa managed to score a few seconds later.

For the third consecutive week, the Colorado Mesa University football team had the lead going into the fourth quarter, but for the second time the Mavericks watched it evaporate.

New Mexico Highlands (4-1, 3-0 RMAC0 rallied from a 16-point deficit early in the second half Saturday to defeat the Mavericks 40-36 at Stocker Stadium. It was the Cowboys’ first victory over Mesa in Grand Junction.

“I felt it got away from us, but in defense of our kids, you could see they’ve got some great athletes on the field,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “(The Cowboys) made some plays … they throw a short little route, and the sucker takes it down the sideline. We had some great coverage, but about 10 feet high (the receiver’s) uncovered.

“At the same token, especially in the second half, we had three or four balls go off our receivers’ hands. Those are huge plays for us because those were critical third-down situations. In that respect, we let the game get away a little bit.”

The Mavericks (1-4, 1-2 RMAC) leaned on sophomore running back Jake Cimolino and the ground game to keep Highlands’ quick-scoring offense off the field. It worked — for the first half. Mesa rushed for a season-high 251 yards for the game, led by Cimolino’s 233.

Cimolino took a pitch from quarterback Jason Haferman and went 77 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter for a 16-6 lead.

It opened up the passing game, and Haferman delivered, hitting Robert Felberg for a 67-yard play, setting up Haferman’s eight-yard TD pass to Alex Zemezonak for a 23-13 lead.

“We did a lot of good things,” said Haferman, who completed 15 of 31 passes for 214 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. “I do believe we’ve progressively gotten better every week, but when you have a chance to win, you have to grab that throat and squeeze it as hard as you can.

“That’s definitely a team we can put up 50-60 points on. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have. We have the playmakers to put points on the board.”

The Mavs got a first down on a Cimolino run with 2:16 left in the first half after Martin asked for a measurement. A couple of plays later Haferman was hit in the head by New Mexico Highlands All-American linebacker Jordan Campbell.

Campbell was flagged on the play for a personal foul, and he picked up the flag and threw it at the official, which earned him an unsportsmanlike penalty. The senior was ejected.

“It was a stupid mistake on his part,” Haferman said of Campbell’s personal foul. “We’ve seen them do it before.”

Mesa capitalized with Cimolino’s five-yard touchdown run for a 29-20 halftime lead.

The Mavericks went up 36-20 early in the third quarter when Felberg caught a 26-yard pass from Haferman on a similar play to his 67-yard reception earlier in the game. Felberg caught four passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.

“I was ready for something like that,” Felberg said. “We saw a lot of mismatches with this defense, and we exploited them today. We just came up short.”

That was it for the Mavericks’ scoring. Highlands loaded the box to stop the run, and it paid off. The Mavericks, who had 175 rushing yards at halftime, were limited to 76 rushing yards in the second half. Mesa also was 0 of 6 on third downs in the second half after converting 5 of 7 in the first half.

“The plays we had called were still good plays,” Martin said. “We knew sometimes they would do that. We still felt if we could get that crease, the play would go to the house. There was two or three of them, a guy basically got Jake by the foot and stopped the thing.

“Were there opportunities to throw the football? Yeah, and I think we did that at times. Also, you don’t like to take the ball out of Jake’s hands. We were doing what we felt was good at that time.”

From there, Highlands offense put together four scoring drives. Quarterback Emmanuel Lewis threw two jump balls to Darius Davis for touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:52 left in the game.


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