Senior DE has started every game for Mesa since 2014
Blake Nelson took a long drink of water, then turned the water bottle on his face.
After a healthy dose of water helped cool him down, the senior defensive end strapped on his helmet and trotted back onto the field.
It was late in the game Saturday, and Colorado Mesa’s defense, with several second-teamers playing, was trying to prevent Black Hills State’s first-team offense from getting any closer.
“I came out for a little bit and Coach wasn’t happy with how some of the guys were playing so he put me back in,” Nelson said after the Mavericks’ 49-37 victory.
A regular on special teams, Nelson blocked the Yellow Jackets’ final PAT kick, and after CMU turned the ball over on downs with 31 seconds to play, Nelson took matters into his own hands.
He bull-rushed past the offensive line and wrapped up quarterback Ryan Hommel for a 9-yard loss as the clock ran out.
A final burst of energy to celebrate, followed by a deep breath.
“I’m ready to go again,” Nelson joked about 30 minutes after the game, once he shed his shoulder pads and unwrapped some tape, eye black still smudged on his face. “No, I’m exhausted. That was a tough one.
“It was like a sigh of relief on that (final sack), finally put the nail in the coffin and put it away.”
It was another long day on the field for the Mavericks’ defense, which defended a season-high 107 plays, but gave up only 14 first-half points and limited the Yellow Jackets to only a field goal in the third quarter.
Then came the fourth quarter, which all season has been an issue on both sides of the football.
Colorado Mesa (5-1, 5-1 RMAC) has been outscored 86-17 in the fourth quarter as the No. 21 Mavs, who score an average of 34.5 points in the first three quarters to opponents’ 10.7 points, rotate young players onto the field to get some necessary seasoning.
“There wasn’t much panic,” said Nelson, who made his 40th career start, and his 40th consecutive.
If you do the math, you’ll see that’s every game the Mavericks have played since his redshirt freshman season in 2014 — after being a walk-on in 2013.
“We want to get our younger guys, our second-string guys, some reps. They need to come in and be able to stop team’s (first-team) offense. They kept their starters in and we had some of our backups in to get them reps,” Nelson said.
“We had a couple of mistakes here and there, but they’re things we can clean up. It’ll be a good film session (this morning) because there will be a lot of learning. Just missed assignments, we’ll clean them up and be ready to go.”
Nelson, who had eight tackles, 3½ sacks for 28 yards, four tackles for 29 yards of lost yardage, two quarterback hurries and the blocked kick Saturday, was an honorable mention all-conference player as a freshman and sophomore, then was a first-team all-RMAC defensive end last season.
He has 273 total tackles in his career, 22 quarterback sacks, 52½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage for 225 yards, has recovered four fumbles, returned one for a touchdown and two interceptions — not bad for a guy deemed too small (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) by many to play college football coming out of Arapahoe High School.
CMU coach Russ Martin has said several times he’s glad he listened to Nelson’s father, who insisted his son could play Division II football, and gave him a chance. From the first day on the scout team as a redshirt, Nelson proved his dad was right.
He’s still 5-11, but is a block-of-granite 230 pounds and deals with offensive linemen doing everything in their power to keep him away from the quarterback.
He made one tackle Saturday on his knees as a lineman was holding onto him, lunging to trip up the ballcarrier. Getting held is part of the game, he said, and it’s up to him to figure out how to stay in the play.
“I just go until I can’t go any more,” he said with a shrug. “I think I was held a little more than was called, but that’s out of my control. I don’t have a flag in my pocket, I can’t throw it. If I did, I would have. You just have to keep playing hard and let everything fall into place.”
Like his teammates, Nelson said the best part of Saturday’s games was the final score. Winning helped ease the sting of the loss to CSU-Pueblo the week before. The Mavericks are on the road four of their final five games, starting Saturday at Dixie State, as they eye a second straight NCAA Division II playoff appearance.
“Get that bad taste out from last week,” Nelson said. “Get a W and get back on the winning track.”