Mavericks thriving during conference play
The young Mesa State College football team’s offense got off to a slow start, but has busted loose since RMAC play began.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Felberg has gone from throwing five interceptions and no touchdowns in the first two games to six touchdowns and one interception in the past three.
His success has come with the growth of the running game, which was also big question mark after the graduation of Mesa’s all-time leading rusher, Bobby Coy.
“I think a lot of it is the maturing of the guys and understanding the system and staying with it,” Mesa State coach Joe Ramunno said. “When you look at the two defenses we played in the opening two weeks, they were pretty darn good defenses.
“We did move the ball, so that was encouraging, but we didn’t have the efficiency we needed. We’ve gotten better at that each week and we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Instead of putting the pressure on one guy to produce like Coy, Ramunno has shared the duties among three backs, sophomores Joey Applehans and Will Halboth and redshirt freshman J.R. Hamm.
The Mavericks (3-2, 3-0 RMAC), who were held to fewer than 100 yards in a season-opening loss to fourth-ranked Central Washington, have rushed for more than 100 yards every game since then, including a season-high 319 in a 51-7 victory over New Mexico Highlands.
“They are good at reading the defense and running,” Ramunno said. “They are not as shifty as Bobby, but they are more downhill. That’s their style. We try to do things to fit their styles. They run the ball very hard and have good ball security.”
By running the football more effectively, the rest of the offense has improved.
Mesa is second in the RMAC in rushing offense with 176.8 yards per game. Applehans, Halboth and Hamm have accounted for 149.6 yards per game.
“I think we all learned a lot from Bobby,” Applehans said. “He taught us a lot of stuff about hitting the holes hard, finding an open space and running. He had a lot of work ethic and tried to pass that on to us.”
Applehans carried the ball 21 times for 147 yards last season in limited duty. He leads the team with 80 carries for 418 yards (83.6 per game) this season.
“I like busting it outside, but I can run over some guys, too,” Applehans said.
Halboth was a running back at Highlands Ranch High School, but moved to safety last year for the Mavericks. He switched to running back last spring.
“I’m more up the gut,” Halboth said. “Playing safety made me tougher, knowing coverages and what the defense is thinking.”
Hamm, who redshirted last year, hasn’t had the number of carries as Applehans or Halboth, but has been a threat off the bench, especially as a receiver out of the backfield.
Together, the three have leaned on each other to fill the void left by Coy.
“We have learned so much from each other,” Hamm said. “We’re probably the closest people on the team. We’re always talking to each other and helping each other out.”
“What one person lacks, the others have,” Applehans said. “We’re all capable of getting the job done.”