Mavericks lose to Lions in playoffs
COMMERCE, Texas — Unfinished business gave way to unrealized chances.
The Colorado Mesa football team knew it couldn’t turn the ball over against the best team at creating turnovers in the nation, and it had to take advantage of scoring opportunities Saturday in the Division II playoffs against Texas A&M Commerce.
Instead, turnovers in crucial situations doomed the Mavericks’ chances in a 34-23 loss, ending their season 9-3.
“Coming into this game they were plus 21 (in turnovers) and we knew that was a standpoint in the game,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. They took advantage in the game when we were not able to convert. I think had we been able to do that it could have totally changed the game. Give them credit for doing that; we just weren’t able to get that finished.”
The Lions converted three CMU turnovers into scores to push their 7-3 lead to 24-3 and the Mavs, who have rallied to win all season long, couldn’t catch up.
“Ball security is a big thing,” redshirt freshman receiver Peter Anderson said. “We have to take care of the ball and we knew that coming into the game. We knew they capitalized on turnovers.”
Anderson caught 12 passes for 99 yards, but he was still kicking himself for the one ball he didn’t catch, one in the back of the end zone on the Mavs’ first series of the game. Instead, the Mavericks settled for a field goal.
Down 7-3, the Mavericks were driving again, despite David Tann heading to the sideline after aggravating an ankle injury. Jonathon Beverly stepped in and ran through big holes, Rubalcaba was mixing the run and pass, with Anderson making a terrific leaping catch on the sideline for a 20-yard gain to the 20.
On third and 5 from the 15, Rubalcaba rolled out and threw a short pass to Marcus Hines, who tried to juke a defender, was hit and fumbled the ball.
Commerce pounced on it, hit a couple of big plays and drove to the 10, kicking a field goal for a 10-3 lead.
“We were expecting a high-scoring game, but we ended up with a pitchers’ duel at halftime,” Commerce coach Colby Carthel said. “That’s the way some of these games go with two good teams in the playoffs.”
Rubalcaba, who rushed for 59 yards on 23 carries in the final game of his career, was briefly knocked out of the game late in the second quarter when, sliding to the turf after a 5-yard pickup to the Commerce 30. He was hit as he slid and stayed down on the turf for a few moments before being taken to the sideline to be checked by the medical staff.
Aric Kaiser entered, was flushed from the pocket and threw an interception to end that scoring chance.
The first two series of the second half all but ended the Mavericks’ season.
Commerce took the kickoff and drove for a touchdown, with Marcus Cross just missing a pick-six when he couldn’t corral the ball.
Up 17-3, the Lions sent a high, short kickoff to CMU.
Mason Newton, one of the up men on the kick return team, fielded the ball as Brett Ojiyi was running up to catch it, ran into Newton, who fumbled the ball on the 21, with Commerce recovering.
“They came down and you have to give them credit, they converted some key situations,” Martin said. “If you remember, Marcus dang near had an interception that would have been a pick-six down on the other end. That would have totally changed things.
“They were able to pick up a couple of third-down situations and ended up scoring, and on the next kickoff the ball hangs up. We knew they’re very good at that and we’d been practicing that and we had two guys run into each other. The one young man didn’t hear the other calling him off, and (Commerce) did what a good team does, they converted that.”
Instead of being right with the Lions, the Mavericks were down 24-3 after Commerce scored four plays later.
Still, CMU rallied, overcoming a holding call and a personal foul, with Beverly running in from the 30. A rare bad snap resulted in a missed extra point, though, and the best CMU could do was trade scores in the fourth quarter.
Hines caught a 26-yard touchdown from Rubalcaba, who was cleared to return in the second half, finishing the game 30 of 43 for 239 yards and one touchdown. He also ran in from the 3 with 2:01 to play.
“They ran a lot of different coverages and a lot of different reads,” Rubalcaba said. “I had to make sure I got a post-snap read and knew I had to make decisions on where to go with the ball. We really preached that this week, know where you’re going with the ball, be decisive. Early on I got into a rhythm and was able to find my receivers.”
He was intercepted twice, one on a tipped ball. Tann returned in the second half, but was injured again, ending his season with 47 yards. Beverly led the Mavericks with 84 yards and one touchdown on only eight carries. Ojiyi picked up 27 more yards.
CMU had more yards than the Lions, but those turnovers made all the difference, as they have all season in the Lions’ favor. Mesa ran for 217 yards and had 510 yards of total offense to the Lions’ 337.
“We didn’t capitalize in the red zone when we needed to,” tight end Daniel Perse said. “This is playoff football and you have to do that. You have to capitalize on every opportunity you have because every team deserves to be here. A&M obviously deserved to be here.”
Defensively, Mesa kept big plays to a minimum, but too many times, the Lions had a short field. Defensive end Blake Nelson had eight tackles despite tweaking his left knee early in the game and being fitted with a brace, and corner Antonio Clark was outstanding with seven tackles and defending several passes in the end zone.
“We knew they were a tough team and had a great O-line and we had to battle the whole game and we did,” Cross said. “We played our hearts out.”
With the majority of the team expected back next season, the Mavericks now know what the playoffs are all about. Anderson, for one, can’t wait for more.
“I’m ready for next year already,” he said. “I wish I had practice on Monday. There’s so much more that the team could have accomplished this year. We cut ourselves short, really. We set our goals so high, we could have achieved that goal, easily.”