Mavs finish strong in loss at Stocker Stadium
The seniors didn’t go out the way they wanted, but they did send the Mesa State College football team into the offseason with some hope for the future.
The Mavericks hung with eighth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney before losing 30-21 on Saturday at Stocker Stadium.
“Last year, we had the same kind of situation, we lost a couple games we shouldn’t have and ended up going to Kearney and they hit us in the mouth,” Mesa junior receiver Griffin Chernoff said. “Coach (Joe Ramunno) said, ‘Remember that feeling.’ We came out and nobody gave up this year.”
The Lopers (10-1, 9-0 RMAC) assured themselves of an NCAA Division II playoff berth and will find out their seed and opponent today.
“If we lost today, we would’ve been like an eight seed and just getting in the playoffs,” Kearney coach Darrell Morris said. “I hope we can hold on to our four seed and host a game.”
Kearney was ranked fourth in the latest regional poll. If the Lopers remain there, they will host a first-round game next week.
The Lopers were able to run the ball against Mesa (5-6, 5-4 RMAC), amassing 257 yards on 43 carries (6.0 per attempt), led by Rustin Dring’s fifth straight 100-yard game. He had 33 carries for 186 yards.
“Rustin’s a talent and Jake Spitzlberger in the backfield is a double threat,” Morris said.
Kearney got off to a good start, building a 17-0 lead by halftime.
Spitzlberger tossed a 23-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Kaiser for a 7-0 lead, then Dring scored on a 25-yard run early in the second quarter for a 14-0 advantage.
Mesa had a scoring opportunity after starting with good field position, but Michael Sweeney’s 22-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
“That played heavy late, but we did some things very well today against a good football team,” Ramunno said.
Kearney came back with a Jordan Alegria 25-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the first half for a 17-0 lead.
“We went in at halftime and talked about stuff,” Mesa quarterback Robert Felberg said. “We came out with everything we had that second half for the seniors and for next year. We gave it everything we had.”
Felberg led the Mavericks on a 61-yard scoring drive, including a 42-yard completion to senior Ryan Polosky on third down. Will Halboth scored on a 1-yard run.
Mesa got the ball back and quickly scored, with Felberg finding Griffin Chernoff for a 42-yard touchdown to get Mesa within a field goal.
“We knew there was some things we could do,” Ramunno said. “Rob gave us a spark a little bit and made some big plays. Guys made some big catches.”
Felberg completed 11 of 19 passes for 182 yards. Halboth had 15 carries for 85 yards.
The Lopers fumbled on their next possession and Mesa’s Sean Matheson recovered at the Kearney 43. The Mavericks, though, had to punt after a couple of penalties and a sack.
Brendan Liess’ 61-yard touchdown run gave Kearney a 24-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
“Those big plays hurt us,” junior defensive end Nainoa Campbell said. “I think we did a good job, but the big plays caught up to us. They are a good football team. I’ll take it.”
Halboth scored on Mesa’s next drive, keyed by Kris Means’ 2-yard run on fourth-and-2 near midfield.
The Lopers, though, responded again with a Spitzlberger 11-yard touchdown pass to Liess for a 30-21 lead.
Mesa had 4:01 left, but Felberg was sacked and Kearney took over on downs.
“They have a young offense, but they didn’t look it today,” Morris said of the Mavericks. “Defensively, they’re as impressive as anybody in this league. It was a good football game; a nice chess match offensively and defensively.”