Mavericks outplayed by Jackets in defeat
As it turned out, the gauntlet was six weeks long, not five.
In the sixth week, the No. 13 Colorado Mesa football team was stopped in its tracks Saturday, 48-34 by Black Hills State.
“All year long, we’ve talked about the gauntlet and the first five,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “Maybe they had a false sense of what it took to get us here. We had some injuries, but (Black Hills) played their butts off today and we didn’t.
“We didn’t have the same full execution and full team situation. Maybe that’s my fault. We put an emphasis on we had to get through (the first five weeks). We tried to make them understand this week we’ve gotta do the same thing in the process every week. Part of that is my fault. We’ve got to regroup and get ready to go.”
Six turnovers — four interceptions thrown by Sean Rubalcaba and two lost fumbles, ended any chance of an undefeated season for the Mavericks.
“That’s life,” Martin said. “You know what? We didn’t play real well and we got beat in every phase.
“That’s (on) us. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football and scoring points and finishing things, and definitely several breakdowns created big plays for them.”
Injuries have taken their toll in the secondary, with strong safety Dustin Rivas trying to play despite injuring his left leg last week, but after two plays it was clear he couldn’t go.
Cornerback George Manning is also out, and cornerback Jackson Burrell, still slowed by an ankle injury during the Chadron State game, didn’t play in the second half. Linebacker Carlos Aviles missed the game with an injury.
“Give Black Hills credit, they’re playing really good football and made some really big plays,” Martin said. “They caught us in a couple of things, some defensive mistakes.”
Shandon Jones’ 73-yard catch-and-run got Black Hills within three points early in the second quarter, 17-14. A pass interference call on the Yellow Jackets’ next possession set up the second rushing touchdown of the day by Phydell Paris, from 20 yards out. He scored on a 38-yard run on Black Hills’ first possession.
Paris, who rushed for 104 yards on 13 carries, was injured late in the first half and didn’t return. Payten Gilmore picked up 70 yards in his absence and quarterback Ryan Hommel completed 24 of 40 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns.
Black Hills State (5-1, 5-1 RMAC), picked by coaches to finish 10th in the 11-team conference, moved into a first-place tie with CMU (5-1, 5-1) atop the RMAC by executing on offense and defense after Mesa took a 17-7 lead in the first quarter.
Mesa’ senior quarterback was intercepted on three consecutive third-quarter drives, although only one led to a Black Hills State score.
That one, on Mesa’s first series of the second half, came after Rubalcaba picked up 12 yards on first down, and then went deep for Marcus Hines.
Isaiah Burkel intercepted the pass at the Black Hills 25, and Hommel directed a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive for a 38-20 lead with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
David Tann, who ran for 121 yards, helped the Mavs drive again, with he and Rubalcaba running the ball to the Black Hills 28. Allan Stubbs’ interception, snatching the ball away from Josh Brown at the last second in the end zone, ended that scoring chance.
Rubalcaba completed only eight of 23 passes for 92 yards.
The third-quarter interceptions took two legitimate scoring chances away from the Mavericks.
“It took points away. When that happens, it’s a major momentum change in the game,” Martin said.
Eystin Salum replaced Rubalcaba in the fourth quarter. His running set up a 17-yard touchdown pass to Virnel Moon, cutting the deficit to 38-27 with 13:16 to play.
On Mesa’s next series, though, he was sacked and lost a fumble. Salum led Mesa with 132 yards rushing and threw for 111 more, hitting six of 11 passes.
Black Hills added a field goal and a comeback-ending touchdown in the fourth quarter before Salum ran for an 11-yard touchdown with 2:23 to play.
Salum recovered Ryan Sheehan’s onside kick, but a false start, compounded by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, took Mesa from the Black Hills 14 to the 34.
On fourth-and-29, Salum was stopped after 24 yards, allowing the Yellow Jackets to run out the clock for their biggest victory since joining the RMAC in 2012 and their first against CMU in five tries.
“It’s not the shiniest day, but it’s also a day we can use to determine whether we turn it into a shiny day,” Martin said. “We can get better or they can want to point fingers at someone else and not accept responsibility. If that’s the case, we won’t be as good as we should. I don’t think that will happen.”