Wide receiver honors fallen teammate with big game in Mavs' home-opening win
Virnel Moon knew Worby was showing him the way.
“He was my recruit, so I wanted to put on a good show for him,” Moon said of Austin “Worby” Worbington, a Colorado Mesa receiver who drowned last May in the potholes on Glade Park. “I know he’s watching right now. That was enough to get me in the game.”
Moon has been hampered by a knee injury — his right knee was taped — and he was hobbling last week at Western State. He said he didn’t practice much this week, but with the Mavericks honoring Worbington in an emotional ceremony before Saturday’s game, he knew he had to play.
“I battled to be healthy all week for this game,” he said.
Moon and Marcus Cross carried Worbington’s jersey to midfield for a moment of silence, then handed the No. 1 jersey to Worbington’s mother as the players and CMU coach Russ Martin embraced his parents.
Then, the Mavericks went out and drove 86 yards on the game’s opening series for a touchdown in a 47-33 RMAC victory over Chadron State at Stocker Stadium.
David Tann, who wrote “Worby” on tape on his right wrist, scored on a 4-yard run on that opening 10-play drive.
Moon then stole the show.
After the defense forced Chadron (1-1, 1-1 RMAC) to punt, Moon beat his man and was sprinting alone in the left flat. Sean Rubalcaba put some air under the ball, and all Moon had to do was keep running and wait for it to fall into his hands for a 50-yard touchdown.
“I was kind of nervous, (thinking) hopefully this guy doesn’t catch up to me because I really want that TD for Worby,” Moon said. “That first touchdown of the season is hard to get out of the way.”
It wasn’t the only pass that came his way. Moon caught five passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns. His second TD was electric, and gave the No. 25 Mavericks (2-0, 2-0) a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter.
Rubalcaba found Moon in a one-on-one matchup on the left side on first down from the Mavs’ 19. Thirteen seconds after the snap, Moon was sprinting across the goal line, pointing to the heavens and blowing kisses after his 81-yard reception.
“I knew he was with me, so I was like, ‘Hey, you get me to the zone and I’m pointing right at you,’ ‘’ Moon said of how he was able to control his emotions after the pregame tribute.
He gave props to Marcus Hines, who had a 114-yard receiving day last week, and the rest of the receivers for his big day. And his quarterback, who completed 25 of 42 passes for a career-high 396 yards, including his two seasons at Northern Colorado.
“We are a very talented group. If it weren’t for the other receivers having the games they did last week, I wouldn’t have been open this week,” Moon said. “They took a lot of pressure off me, they took a lot of guys off me so I can have a one-on-one on that matchup and the result was the touchdown.”
Rubalcaba said when he sees one guy on Moon — or any receiver — he knows the Mavs can have a big play.
“We just have so many offensive weapons,” he said. “Any one can have their day. Last week was Marcus and today was Virnel. We’re just so dynamic, we can call whatever and go for a big play.”
The offensive line gave Rubalcaba plenty of time, sealing out Chadron’s pass rush and allowing him to step up into the pocket or roll out and find a receiver.
“I thought the offensive line is playing pretty dang well,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “They’re giving Sean time and he’s doing a great job of stepping up in the pocket and keeping in the pocket. That’s a good indication your inside guys are doing a good job of stopping the rush there.”
Rubalcaba also rushed for 55 yards, with Tann gaining 49 more, with 51 yards receiving. Tann dropped one sure big-play pass, but came back and caught another for 38 yards in the third quarter that helped set up one of Ryan Sheehan’s four field goals.
“I wasn’t dropping that one again,” Tann said. “I was mad at myself.”
He got the majority of the carries early with Jonathan Beverly sitting out for what Martin said was a violation of team rules, but some backups got some time, with Olie Olson, injured much of last season, and senior Dorian Williams, along with redshirt freshman Brett Ojiyi rotating into the backfield. Williams scored the Mavs’ other rushing touchdown on a 1-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter for a 37-20 lead.
“The offensive line was getting a great push on the D-line and linebackers and were opening up big holes,” Tann said. “It helps when Sean is throwing darts to different receivers all over the field. It was hitting holes and getting as many (yards) as I could.”
Special teams had a few hiccups for Mesa, with Jack Dobyns blocking Austin Pitchford’s punt in the second quarter and Zecharie James returning it 25 yards for a touchdown. Chadron also converted an onside kick after its final touchdown of the game, but Mesa’s defense held.
“Three of their scores, two were big pass plays, and their receivers are fast,” Martin said. “It’s not like we were in terrible position, he just beat us. The blocked punt, our special teams have to get better. Really, there was only one time they drove the football on us. I don’t mind if we give up a few first downs, our guys played well. There are things we can continue to get better at.”
The offense wasn’t happy about settling for field goals four times — two major penalties pushed them from second-and-goal from the 2 to fourth-and-goal from the 20 for Sheehan’s 37-yarder in the third quarter.
“I think the offense looked better this week than last week,” Tann said. “We still could have put a lot more points on the board. We came up short a few times and that’s what we’re trying to get rid of. We need to get six points instead of three.”