Fumble-riddled drive rescues RMAC dreams

Four plays for 71 yards in one minute and 34 seconds.

That was the drive in Mesa State’s game Saturday against New Mexico Highlands University that kept the season from slipping away.

Down 27-10 late in the third quarter with dreams of Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championships fading away, the Mavericks responded with a touchdown cutting the Cowboys lead to 10 points.

“That was huge because it gave us a chance,” Mesa State head coach Joe Ramunno said. “That drive vaulted us and got things going.”

The Mavericks scored on their next three drives, going onto win their first game of the season 34-27.

But the win nearly didn’t happen.

After New Mexico Highlands’ Travis Dunn fumble recovery for a touchdown, the Maverick’s kickoff returner, Griffin Chernoff, fumbled the ball on the ensuing kickoff near Highland’s sideline causing a scrum for the ball.

The Mavericks came away with it, but extra curricular pushing and shoving occurred causing the referees to assess offsetting personal fouls.

Penalties are never what a team wants but it might have been the spark Mesa needed.

On the first play of the drive, Mavericks quarterback Phil Vigil laced a ball over the middle intended for Justin Murray. Cowboys defensive back Carl Willis jumped the route and nearly intercepted the ball. With the ball still airborne, Murray leaped out and made an athletic catch for a 23-yard gain.

“It was just a hustle play,” Murray said. “I don’t know if I popped it out or if it went off of his chest but it was a little bit of a lucky play.”

Using that momentum, running back Bobby Coy took a handoff 32 yards and after a personal foul penalty, the Mavericks had the ball at the Highlands 8-yard line. On the play, center Ryan Swope got banged up, which moved right guard Trevor Wikre to center with Joe Bolognesi replacing Wikre.

The unfamiliarity caused a mishandled snap on the next play but Vigil fell on the ball, avoiding a costly turnover in the red zone.

After the fumbled snap, Vigil rolled out of the pocket and found reserve fullback Zach Belloni who stepped out of a Highland’s tackle at the 1-yard line and scored a much needed touchdown.

“It was a big momentum shifter,” Belloni, a redshirt freshman said. “We had to score every drive at that point.”

The Mavs survived two fumbles and a near interception

“It is a huge relief, but we have eight more left in the RMAC,” Belloni said. “We are shooting for that championship and we have to start playing better in the first half.”


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