Happy Mavericks punch postseason ticket
Sunday might have been Russ Martin’s greatest day to be a Mav.
The Colorado Mesa football coach’s signature phrase was never more appropriate than when the roar went up from the auditorium in the Maverick Center as Martin and his team saw “Colorado Mesa” pop up as the No. 5 seed in Super Region Four of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
“It’s a great day to be a Mav,” Martin laughed when asked what kind of day it was. “You know that, it’s a great day to be a Mav.”
One year removed from tears being shed in that same room, there were only smiles and cheers. Eight seasons have passed since the Mavericks were last in the playoffs.
“It seems surreal,” senior linebacker Marcus Cross said. “Everyone jumped up and started screaming once they called our name. … When we got here (as freshmen), making the playoffs … you would have never thought we’d do that. To do that and win the conference, it’s awesome.”
The Mavericks (9-2) are the No. 5 seed and play at No. 4 Texas A&M-Commerce (9-1) at noon (MST) Saturday. The winner plays at top-seeded Grand Valley State (Michigan) in the second round on Nov. 22.
In the bottom half of the regional bracket, No. 2 Ferris State (9-2) hosts No. 7 Midwestern State (8-2) in Big Rapids, Michigan, and sixth-seeded Colorado School of Mines (9-2) travels to Bolivar, Missouri, to play No. 3 Southwest Baptist (10-1).
Truman (Missouri), which was No. 5 in the region last week, fell out of contention after its 41-14 loss Saturday to McKendree, opening the door for the Orediggers. Midwestern State’s 30-28 loss to Eastern New Mexico dropped the Mustangs from No. 2 to No. 7 in the final poll.
Cross and senior quarterback Sean Rubalcaba were both injured last season — Cross missed the season with a shoulder injury, Rubalcaba injured his left knee against CSU-Pueblo and missed the season finale — but that didn’t take the sting out of the playoff snub.
“Last year, that was tough. They won the last game but it was like they lost it, having all that excitement being sucked out of the seniors,” Cross said. “It really hurt seeing them go through that, but this year was a lot better.”
After three years at Northern Colorado, Rubalcaba transferred to CMU after his redshirt sophomore year. After leading the Mavericks to the brink of the playoffs last season, he felt much better Sunday.
“It’s definitely a sweeter feeling than this time last year,” he said Rubalcaba. “We’re going to get ready this next week and put the pedal to the metal.”
Martin, the Mavs’ emotional head coach who fought back tears after last season’s selection show, was grinning from ear to ear this time.
“There’s a lot to smile about. It feels great,” he said. “The guys are excited, the room was very electric and it was different than last year. Last year we were kind of on the bubble. This year we felt we were in and it was a matter of seeing where and who we would play, and it didn’t matter. It was great to see our name up there and our guys are looking forward to going to Texas right now.”
The Lions won their third consecutive Lone Star Conference title in the four years Colby Carthel has been coaching in Commerce, and made the playoffs last season, losing in the first round.
Like Martin, he’s turned around a struggling program, which had gone 5-26 the three years prior to his arrival.
“I know Coach Carthel very well, he and I are good friends,” Martin said before heading to his office to start scouring game film. “I haven’t seen them play this year at all. I know they’re going to be extremely well-coached and a very good football team. I know he’s always very proud of his team and how they play.”
Martin said he and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Mike Chavez did a little what-iffing Sunday, anticipating where the Mavs would fall in the bracket, but not much.
“When Coach Chavez came in, he and I were talking about how it might be, I said honestly I have no idea,” Martin said. “I know the different points (of emphasis in voting) but I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to it, I’ll let the committee do that. I’ll be honest, I haven’t worried about it a whole lot. I had a pretty good feeling it might be two of three different teams, but not knowing. It was great seeing it go up on the board there and I guess we’ll go to Texas.”
Where they ended up in the bracket wasn’t a concern to the players, as long as they were there.
“I don’t think it really matters for me,” Rubalcaba said. “It’s tell me who we’re playing and let’s get ready to go.”
“We just wanted to make the playoffs,” Cross said. “Give us a chance, it doesn’t matter who we go against.”