Defense leads Mesa rally in win over W. New Mexico
For one half, it looked as if Western New Mexico would steal a victory Saturday from Mesa State College.
The Mavericks, though, made adjustments and rallied to defeat the Mustangs 43-37 in an RMAC football game at Stocker Stadium.
“All year, we’ve been preaching we are more conditioned than everybody and have more heart than everybody,” Mesa State senior linebacker Derek Thorne said. “We knew we were going to beat them in the fourth quarter. We talked about it at halftime. This team doesn’t quit. We go all four quarters. It worked out today.”
Thorne led the Mavericks’ second-half rally from a two-touchdown deficit with 10 tackles, including two sacks and a forced fumble.
Mesa (2-2, 2-0 RMAC) forced three turnovers, returning one fumble for a touchdown, and recorded six sacks.
With Mesa trailing by a touchdown late in the third quarter, Thorne made a play that rattled Western New Mexico quarterback Dennis Havrilla and altered the direction of the game.
“I’m proud of our players because they persevered,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “We had to figure out a way to contain Havrilla because he was pretty special.
“I thought we did a great job in the second half finding ways to get to him and make plays.”
Thorne hit Havrilla so hard on one play, he knocked the quarterback’s helmet off and jarred the ball loose. Mesa jumped on the ball, but the officials ruled an incomplete pass.
“They saw me coming right off the bat, so I backed off and acted like I was going man on that third receiver,” Thorne said. “Luckily, when I went, Cheech (Alberto Rodriguez) did a great job of pulling that guy in and it freed me up. I blind-sided him. He wasn’t even looking. That’s just luck right there.”
The Mustangs’ Colin Lund converted a 42-yard field goal on the next play for a 31-21 lead.
Mesa State kicker Michael Sweeney made field goals on back-to-back possessions to get the Mavs within four points, 31-27.
After Mesa stopped the Mustangs on their second consecutive possession, the Mavs took advantage of good field position at the Mesa 44. Eight plays later, Joey Applehans scored on a 2-yard run, one play after Western was called for pass interference in the end zone on third down. Applehans’ score gave Mesa a 34-31 lead. He finished with 25 carries for 103 yards.
Thorne got to Havrilla again on Western’s next possession, forcing another fumble. This time, Bennett Newton recovered it and ran 51 yards for a touchdown and a 41-31 lead.
“It was the exact same thing,” Thorne said. “We knew they weren’t getting our edge blitzes, so we kept bringing it. The quarterback was getting flustered with it. Our man coverage was great and it worked out.”
The score appeared to be enough, but Havrilla completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Felton. Lund’s point-after attempt was blocked and Sean Matheson returned it for two points.
Western (1-2, 0-2 RMAC) recovered an onside kick, but Mesa continued to pressure Havrilla, with Chad Benkelman and Nainoa Campbell getting sacks to secure the win.
Mesa State redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Felberg led the offensive rally, completing 18 of 29 passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns, including an 11-yard touchdown pass to Griffin Chernoff with 13 seconds left in the first half to get Mesa on the scoreboard.
“He is getting better and better each and every week,” Ramunno said. “As long as Robert is trusting the people around him, he’s going to be very affective. That’s experience.”
Felberg’s top target was senior Ryan Polosky, who not only made the first reception of his college career, but led Mesa with seven catches for 108 yards.
“Peze was playing a great game,” Felberg said. “He didn’t have any catches the first three games at all. He’s out there every day in practice, ‘Come on, give me the ball.’ Today, I threw it to him a little bit and he made some good plays.”
The Mavericks squandered scoring chances early.
“We had the ball ready to score twice, and we didn’t score,” Felberg said.
“We knew going into halftime we could score. We came back in the second half and knew we were going to score a bunch of points.
“We knew what they were doing. We kept driving on them. Our offense is confident right now.”