Mesa football team rallies on road
The Mesa State College football team might as well be called road warriors instead of Mavericks.
Mesa State won its fourth consecutive road game Saturday, defeating Western State College 16-14 in a defensive slugfest at the Mountaineer Bowl in Gunnison.
Unlike the previous three road wins, Mesa State (5-3, 5-1 RMAC) had to rally for the victory.
Michael Sweeney, a Grand Junction High School graduate, made a 20-yard field goal with 1:40 left in the game to complete a second-half comeback. The redshirt freshman kicked field goals of 34 and 36 yards earlier in the game.
“I’m proud of the guys and the way they persevered,” Mesa State coach Joe Ramunno said. “They had great preparation for things. I’m impressed how (Western) played against us. They are a well-coached team.”
The Mavericks limited Western State (3-5, 3-3 RMAC) to 166 yards in offense, including 58 on the ground, and forced two turnovers.
The Mountaineers were nearly as stingy, limiting Mesa to 286 yards in offense.
“They brought a lot of pressure,” Ramunno said. “We didn’t play as well. They had a good defensive scheme. We were able to run the ball well early, but they gave us different looks. We didn’t make adjustments.”
Will Halboth rushed for 75 yards on 13 carries. Quarterback Michael Mankoff completed 6 of 17 passes for 64 yards before leaving with an ankle injury late in the third quarter. Robert Felberg threw for 102 yards, completing 5 of 8 passes.
“We were planning on using both quarterbacks anyway,” Ramunno said. “I think (Mankoff) will be back, but we’ll see how it is Monday.”
The Mavericks’ defense set the tempo, forcing a fumble on the first play from scrimmage. Mesa cornerback Chad Simpson recovered and returned it 12 yards. Mesa, though, settled for a Sweeney 34-yard field goal.
The offense clicked on the next possession, with Halboth running for 60 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Halboth scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 9:07 left in the first quarter for a 10-0 lead.
Western State’s defense shut down Mesa the rest of the half and took the momentum early in the second quarter.
Safety Chris Price sacked Mankoff for a loss deep in Western territory, forcing a fumble. Linebacker Blake Krenke returned the fumble 58 yards for a touchdown.
Western State took the lead on its next possession when quarterback Tyler Daniels completed a 3-yard pass to Shaun Suttorp in the end zone. The Mountaineers led 14-10 at halftime.
Sweeney hit a 36-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to get Mesa within one point. Felberg ran for a first down on fourth-and-3 during the drive.
The Mountaineers’ special teams blocked a Mesa State punt, and Allan Aguilar picked up the loose ball, returning it 10 yards to the Mesa 5 before punter C.J. Smith brought him down.
Mesa’s defense didn’t budge, forcing a 30-yard field goal attempt that was wide left.
“We had a breakdown in our punt team,” Ramunno said. “You’ve got to take your hat off to the defense to hold them out right there. That was the difference in the ball game. It came down to plays like that.”
Mesa’s defense sealed the victory when Aaron Silverthorn intercepted Daniels with 1:23 left near midfield. It was Daniels’ first interception of the season.
“That kid (Daniels) is a very good player,” Ramunno said. “He’s always in the pocket and is smart with the football. He didn’t gamble.”