Defense lifts Mavericks past Dixie
One week after failing to score a touchdown and stop the big pass play on defense, the Colorado Mesa University football team made big plays Saturday night to pick up its first road victory since 2009, ending a six-game road losing streak.
The Mavericks returned three interceptions for touchdowns to defeat Dixie State College 52-30 at Hansen Stadium in St. George, Utah.
“We made some ground today,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “We needed to do that. It’s a huge win. We haven’t won on the road in a long time.
“I’m proud of these guys and the way we persevered. When we were down in the first half it would’ve been easy to stop, but we rallied. Our players made some plays.”
Trent deBraga intercepted two passes, returning both for touchdowns. Travis McRae had two interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and Connor Wright set a Mesa single-game record with six sacks to go with his 12 tackles.
“There was not a better performance than (Wright),” Ramunno said. “He played great last week. The difference was where the quarterback was last week. This week, we had a good matchup and were able to get pressure and close back in on them.”
DeBraga came up with the first big play for the Mavs, intercepting Dixie quarterback Cody Stevenson and returning it 34 yards for a touchdown one minute into the second half to cut a 12-point halftime deficit to five.
“He made a great read on the ball,” Ramunno said. “He’s a great player for us. He does great things for us.”
Mesa forced Dixie to punt on its next possession, then marched down the field in 12 plays and scored on a Will Halboth 5-yard run for a 24-22 lead.
The Red Storm took advantage of a Mesa fumble and regained the lead, 30-24, on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Stevenson.
McRae intercepted Stevenson on Dixie’s next possession and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown and a 31-30 Mesa lead midway through the fourth quarter.
DeBraga intercepted Stevenson again and returned it 65 yards for another touchdown and a 38-30 lead.
McRae’s second interception set up Robert Felberg’s 10-yard touchdown run after Jake Cimolino fumbled. Mesa led 45-30.
Freshman Jai Johnson added a 21-yard TD run on his first collegiate carry with 1:24 left in the game.
Palisade graduate Matt Young intercepted Kaleo Nawahine on the final play of the game.
The Mavericks put last week’s offensive struggles behind them on its first possession of the game, taking advantage of a short punt and scoring 1:19 into the game on a 13-yard run by Felberg.
“The first drive we scored on was a pretty impressive drive,” Ramunno said. “That was something we felt was a real positive. We’ve got to do that and control the tempo of the game.”