Colorado Mesa uses defense, passing game to rout Fort Lewis
Jake Cimolino has been a big part of the Colorado Mesa University football team’s rushing attack for three seasons. He’s the third-leading rusher in school history and one of the focal points of the Mavericks’ offense.
But on Saturday, CMU coach Russ Martin got him involved in another facet of the offense. Martin said his team exploited Fort Lewis College’s struggle against play-action by using the running backs in the passing game.
The game plan worked. Mesa quarterback Aric Kaiser threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-0 win over Fort Lewis in Durango. Cimolino caught three passes for 58 yards and a touchdown, all season highs, to complement an 18-carry, 110-yard and two-touchdown day on the ground.
“Jake ran the ball really, really well today, and most games he’s done a good job running the ball on the inside,” Martin said. “We did a good job on our perimeter blocking and were able to use that after we saw some things on film that made Fort Lewis look vulnerable to the play-action. We used it few times in the game and had some big plays.”
“(Fort Lewis) looked kind of lost on play-action, and Kaiser did a good job of pulling the linebackers and pulling the safeties and creating some lanes to throw in. It allowed us to get our backs involved in the passing game, and I’m really happy about that.”
CMU (5-2, 4-1 RMAC) recorded six sacks in the first half, and at halftime the Skyhawks had a negative rushing total. Fort Lewis (2-5, 1-4 RMAC) finished with 39 rushes for 57 yards. The Mavericks gave up only 112 yards through the air and had two interceptions.
But it was one play during the closing moments of the first half that Martin said illustrated the defense’s dominance. With Fort Lewis in the red zone, the Mavs’ Marc Palacios forced a fumble on a sack, and Andrew Hurley scooped up the ball and ran 84 yards for a touchdown.
“We practice that kind of play, and Andrew saw an opportunity and he took it,” Martin said. “It really shifted the momentum back our way because if they score right before the half, it could have been a completely different ballgame.”
“We’ve really been busting our (butts) in practice to be able to defend the red zone. Today, I thought we were able to stop most of their offense. Most of their running came off some big quarterback scrambles, and we held them to less than two yards a carry.
“The defense played extremely well today, and we had several three-and-outs right out of the gate, and I thought that made a ton of difference out there. It’s difficult to play catch-up if you can’t move the ball down the field or get any momentum going.”
Mesa’s Nathan Neville broke out for three catches, including two touchdowns from 52 and 32 yards out. His 101 receiving yards eclipsed his total to this point in the season.
Martin said Neville is part of a receiving corps that will do whatever is asked.
“The great thing about Nathan is that he will bust his butt in practice,” Martin said. “He told me that if he is needed to block down field, he’ll block down field. It’s really how this entire group is. They’re not worried about who does what. They just want to win.”
The win was the fourth straight for the Mavericks and their second shutout of the season. CMU plays Colorado Mines, which is tied with CMU for second place in the RMAC behind CSU-Pueblo, on Saturday at Stocker Stadium.
“We’re going to enjoy this win here,” Martin said. “It’s a really big win for us. But come Monday we’re getting ready for a Mines team that has traditionally been a very strong team, and they’re very good this year.
“It’s a matter of focusing on us to keep winning games. Today was the best team performance we’ve had this year.
“We’ve realized that we have to understand what the opponent does offensively and defensively, but the only team we can do anything about is ourselves. We’ll need to execute assignments like we did today moving forward, and on offense we’ll need to make sure we aren’t making bad situations worse with mental mistakes.”