Chadron State edges Colorado Mesa in OT
CHADRON, Neb. — Two teams were playing a seemingly meaningless end-of-the-season game with no playoff implications or conference titles on the line.
But Saturday’s RMAC football game at Don Beebe Stadium was so much more than that.
Colorado Mesa University and Chadron State College both had a lot to play for other than a strong finish, and it took overtime to decide it before Chadron pulled out a 24-17 victory.
Colorado Mesa (4-7, 3-6 RMAC) played not only for a third consecutive victory and the 15 outgoing seniors, the Mavericks played for their coach, Joe Ramunno, whose team endured a third consecutive losing season.
“We were all riding on this one,” junior safety Trevor de-Braga said. “We wanted to keep that win streak, do it for the seniors and for Coach.”
Speculation on Ramunno’s future is spreading, and the players are aware of the talk.
“It’s not up to us players,” said junior wide receiver Robert Felberg, who threw a touchdown pass to force overtime. “We want Chief to stay. He fights for us and we fight for him.”
Ramunno said his future is out of his control, but was proud of his team and the effort the Mavs put in the season finale.
“They played their (tails) off,” Ramunno said. “Everybody is working hard and trying to do the right thing.
“We’ve come back and gone to work every week. The guys never stopped working and fighting. They bought in and have been very loyal to it. We just didn’t have the win-loss ratio we thought we’d have.”
Chadron State (6-5, 6-3 RMAC) looked to not only win four of its final five games to finish above .500, but win with the program facing possible NCAA sanctions. The Eagles self-reported a possible fund-raising and financial violation to the NCAA four weeks ago and temporarily removed coach Bill O’Boyle pending an investigation.
Chadron State lost the overtime coin flip, but scored first on Jeff Alcorn’s 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Gorsuch.
Colorado Mesa failed to answer. After Jake Cimolino was hit for a 3-yard loss, Chadron’s defense broke up the next three passes from Steve Romero to win the game.
“It’s a tough loss in overtime, because we really came together as a team in the second half of the season,” Felberg said. “It’s really hard to lose that one.”
Felberg made a big play to force OT when the receiver took a end-around handoff from Romero and hit Nate Neville for a 35-yard touchdown with 8:35 left in the fourth quarter.
“It was designed for Rob and I,” Neville said. “Rob is an ex-quarterback, so he can huck the ball. It worked out to a T. When it got caught in the wind, I thought, ‘I’ve got to go up and get it.’ “
Both teams struggled to reach the end zone in a defensive slugfest. It took a defensive play to set up the first score.
Mesa defensive end Domonique Lewis hit Gorsuch, who fumbled and Justin Brown recovered for the Mavericks.
Five plays later, Cimolino scored on a 20-yard screen pass from Romero with 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
The Mavericks had an opportunity to build on the 7-0 lead on their next possession when they took over on Chadron’s 40 after the defense pinned the Eagles against their goal line.
Cimolino and Will Halboth moved the ball to the Chadron 15, but Halboth fumbled and Chadron linebacker James Belville recovered.
Mesa’s defense kept Chadron out of scoring range and the Mavericks led 7-0 at half.
The Mavericks had a golden opportunity when their second-half opening kickoff hung in the air, hit a Chadron player and was recovered by deBraga at the Chadron 44.
Mesa’s offense seemed to still be in the locker room as it gained 1 yard on three plays and was forced to punt.
“We had many, many opportunities,” Ramunno said. “That’s the disappointing part. We turned the ball over in scoring range. It’s disappointing because you work your tail off all year.
“The big thing was we were unable to take advantage of that. It’s growing pains. We’ve got to execute when we get that opportunity, but the guys kept persevering.”
Chadron took the momentum, going on an 84-yard drive to tie the game 7-7. Gorsuch completed a 15-yard pass to Chapman Ham.
The Eagles quickly got the ball back and added a 40-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Trent deBraga responded with an 80-yard kick return to the Chadron 20. An Eagles penalty gave Mesa a first down on Chadron’s 10.
The Mavericks couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone, but Caleb Pavy hit a 23-yard field goal to tie the game, 10-10.
Trevor deBraga picked off Gorsuch on Chadron’s next possession. Mesa moved the ball to the Chadron 12, but Pavy’s 34-yard field goal was blocked.
“I read my keys and it happened,” deBraga said of the interception. “It could’ve been anybody. I happened to be in the right spot there.”
Chadron opened the fourth quarter with an 80-yard drive and an Allan Schmaltz 1-yard touchdown run for a 17-10 lead.
After Trent deBraga’s 39-yard kickoff return and another Chadron penalty, Felberg hit Neville for the touchdown to send the game into overtime.