Late TD sinks Mesa vs. Cowboys

Colorado Mesa University appeared to rally Saturday for an RMAC victory, only to see it slip away in a series full of confusion.

The New Mexico Highlands football team scored a touchdown with 11 seconds left to defeat the Mavericks 41-38 at Perkins Stadium in Las Vegas, N.M.

“It’s a devastating loss, but we had some positive improvements,” Mesa coach Joe Ramunno said. “The clock didn’t run (after one play). (The officials) ran four seconds off, but it was confusing there for a bit. I thought we had a shot. I’m proud of the guys and the way they played.”

Highlands (4-0, 2-0 RMAC), which had 515 yards in total offense, started its final possession with 2:17 left in the game, trailing 38-34. The Cowboys moved into Mesa territory in six plays and into scoring territory after a pass interference call.

A couple of plays later, the clock was stopped, even though the Highlands player was tackled inbounds. Highlands scored on a 1-yard pass from Nick Ponce to Kevon Williams with 11 seconds left.

“We didn’t play as well as we have been on defense,” Ramunno said. “Jake Edmiston played well again, but we didn’t get the stops when we needed. We didn’t put enough pressure on them.”

After the kickoff return, Mesa (1-3, 0-2 RMAC) had four seconds left to run a play, but quarterback Chris Henderson’s pass was intercepted.

Henderson completed 22 of 35 passes for 374 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in his first start in place of Steve Romero, who was out with a sprained shoulder. Romero, who started last week, was unable to practice Thursday and didn’t make the trip.

“(Henderson) was nervous early, but he answered well,” Ramunno said. “At times, our offense was phenomenal, but it was tough to get going.”

Mesa built a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter when Robert Felberg caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Henderson. Felberg, who was the starting quarterback for the season opener, caught three passes for 46 yards, including the score, in his first game at wide receiver this season.

Highlands scored on its next possession to cut Mesa’s lead to three, then the Cowboys blocked a Colorado Mesa field goal attempt with 56 seconds left in the half.

Ramunno said he wanted the Mavericks to run more time off the clock before attempting the field goal.

“I told them it’s my fault,” he said. “Right before halftime, we were trying to eat some clock and I guess I didn’t convey that to the holder. That was a big momentum shift.”

Highlands scored on a 43-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to take a 21-17 halftime lead.

Mesa running back Jake Cimolino injured an ankle midway through the third quarter and did not return. He rushed for 73 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries.

“His ankle looked better than we thought it would,” Ramunno said. “It’s sore now.”

On the same drive Cimolino was injured, the Mavericks went for it on fourth-and-2 at the Highlands 34, but were stuffed.

The Cowboys pushed their lead to 27-17 lead late in the third quarter.

Mesa retaliated with a 96-yard drive and a Henderson 1-yard touchdown run, set up by a 49-yard pass to Tanner Whaley.

“That got us going,” Ramunno said. “It was a great drive. We opened some things up.”

Leading 34-24, the Cowboys had a chance to put the game out of reach, but fumbled, with linebacker Jake Bruno recovering.

One play later, Henderson connected on a 24-yard pass to Austin Rodriguez for a touchdown with 4:13 left in the game. Mesa trailed 34-31.

The Mavs forced Highlands to punt on its next possession, and Will Halboth scored on a 5-yard run for a 38-34 lead with 2:25 left.

That, though, was plenty of time for the Cowboys to rally.


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