Growing time: Mavs ready to rebound after difficult 2009 season

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Mesa State College quarterback Robert Felberg carries the ball through a hole in the University of Nebraska - Kearney defense during Saturday’s game at Stocker Stadium.


Nebraska-Kearney (10-1) is the fourth seed in Super Region 3 and hosts fifth-seed Saginaw Valley State (Mich.) (9-2) at 11 a.m. (MST), Saturday.

It was a disappointing season for the Mesa State College football team.

The Mavericks (5-6, 5-4 RMAC) were able to hang with most teams with their defense, but struggled to score, being held to fewer than 21 points six times. Mesa was 1-5 in those games.

Mesa finished sixth in the RMAC in total offense with 321.2 yards per game, but averaged only 270.9 yards and 13.5 points in games against teams other than the three worst defenses in the RMAC.

“Our offense is young,” junior defensive end Nainoa Campbell said. “We were a little skeptical the whole year. They got banged up and what not. They set a good statement (Saturday) for what’s going to happen next year. We gained a lot of confidence, if anything, from this game.”

The Mavericks, who started only two seniors on offense this season, lost three key players on offense. Guard Matt Goeas was injured and left the team for family reasons. Center Ryan Swope and running back Joey Applehans were injured in the sixth game and were lost for the rest of the season.

Mesa was without veteran wide receiver Ricky Noble all year because of a knee injury.

Despite the youth and injuries, the Mavericks outscored four of their opponents in the second half.

They did Saturday, outscoring eighth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney 21-13 in the second half, but still came away with a 30-21 loss.

“Yeah, we could’ve done a little bit better,” redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Felberg said. “We proved we can hang with one of the best teams in the country. If we can hang with (Kearney); we can hang with anybody. We keep fighting until the end, we don’t give up.”

Felberg led the rally, throwing for 182 yards, most of it in the second half, including a touchdown pass to Griffin Chernoff to get Mesa within a field goal in the third quarter.

“This last game, we put a lot of things together, compared to previous games,” Chernoff said. “It’s definitely going to catapult us into next season.”

Mesa State coach Joe Ramunno will rely on the returning young players to come back more mature next season.

“We’ll be a lot more experienced offensively,” Ramunno said. “We got a lot of youth some experience. They’ve got to grow up more in the offseason and come back fighting.”

That begins with the redshirt freshman quarterbacks, Felberg and Michael Mankoff.

Felberg completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,444 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Mankoff threw for 428 yards in seven games. He missed the first four with a high ankle sprain.

“They both learned a great deal this year,” Ramunno said. “That’s the nature of the position because all eyes are on you at all times. Mankoff is a pocket guy and when you’re a redshirt freshman, it’s hard to deliver sometimes. Rob is a guy that is flashy with his feet. He’s got that skill. We’re excited about it with the battle with those two guys, then you throw (Jason) Haferman in the mix. That makes us better with them competing.

“Somebody’s going to have to take it over. Rob did that (Saturday). There were times Michael did that, too.”

Ramunno expects Swope, who will be a senior next year, to return to anchor the offensive line that was made up of sophomores and redshirt freshmen.

“It’s a good group, we’re just young,” Ramunno said. “Swope will be back. (Trevor) Stapp is as good as they come. (Brett) Minson had a good year.”

Ramunno, though, will have to replace nine defensive players, including six who started Saturday.

“We have some great guys coming back. Nainoa, Dom Lewis, Conner Wright, Tony Kelly,” Ramunno said. “Spencer (McAdoo) will be back and brings a lot of experience. We’ve got guys that can play. In the secondary, Sean Matheson’s back and Tanner Whaley’s back. Woody (Blevins) will be back, too.”


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