Mavericks score early, often to rout Western in opener
The Colorado Mesa football team adopted the motto of “Leave No Doubt” this season.
The Mavericks might need to amend that to “Waste No Time” after their Mavtempo offense scored in bunches Thursday night in a 49-23 shellacking of Western State at Stocker Stadium.
“It’s all within the offense that Coach (Russ) Martin has always had,” quarterback Eystin Salum said. “We can run the ball on the inside, we can get to the perimeter.”
Less than one minute into the season, the Mavericks were on the board, and three first-quarter touchdowns were all either scored on, or set up by, big plays on the arm strength — yes, that’s right, the arm, not legs — of Salum.
The junior quarterback, who made a name for himself last season by spelling Sean Rubalcaba and dancing through defenses, showed he’s not just a runner calling signals, but is becoming a complete quarterback in his first year as a starter.
He completed 14 of 20 passes for 290 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers. He also ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns.
“Eystin, he can let it go, he’s a gunslinger for sure,” said receiver Josh Brown, who caught three passes for 43 yards. “He’s got a strong arm and he’s letting it go. He trusts us, any one of us, the starters to the backups. We’re going to go get it every time.”
Salum threw a 30-yard touchdown to Marcus Hines to open the scoring after Western was flagged for a personal foul when Salum was hit after the whistle blew when the Mavericks were called for a false start.
Brown ran past his defender and made a diving 34-yard catch to help set up David Tann’s first touchdown of the season. After Tann’s first carry of the game netted 11 yards, he caught a pass in the flat and trotted into the end zone for a 14-0 lead — and the game wasn’t even five minutes old.
It wasn’t only a night for the offense, though. The defense allowed Western only 88 yards of offense in the first half, and stopped the Mountaineers on fourth down when Blake Nelson wrapped up freshman quarterback Dylan Jacob on fourth down.
“We expected to come out ... we didn’t want to give up any touchdowns and they ended up putting up 23 points, but it’s stuff we can work on,” safety Dustin Rivas said. “It was good to get some young guys reps. Our defense is really coming together, when you get 11 guys really focused on their assignments but also making big plays, it’s going to take us a long way.”
After that defensive stand, CMU wasted no time. On the first play, Peter Anderson streaked down the field for a 55-yard touchdown pass from Salum, whose only two incompletions of the first half were interceptions.
“I made a mistake down here, we’re going to score, we’re definitely in field goal range and I made a bad mistake,” Salum said of a jump pass he tried to float over a defender that was picked off. “There are things we can clean up. Three touchdowns on special teams called back. We went into a lull in the second quarter after we went up 21-nothing, so that’s some mental focus. There are definitely things we can clean up because we want to be great.”
After that interception, the defense held again and Mesa drove 76 yards in seven plays, with Virnel Moon gathering in a pass and juking a defender for a 27-yard score.
The Mavericks led 28-3 at halftime, the put up 21 more points in the third quarter, but it could have been even more lopsided because of those three returns called back.
Moon’s 96-yard kickoff return was wiped out on a holding penalty and a personal foul negated Brown’s electrifying 99-yard punt return midway through the second quarter.
“We’re trying to be the best in every aspect of the game and returns are another aspect of it,” Brown said. “When Virnel took his back it was just like a competition, I’ve got to go get one, and then he got one right back on me. It’s like a competition and trying to be the best with everything. This return game, I think we will be the best.”
Moon took a kickoff five yards deep in the end zone, started left, cut back right and raced up the sideline, cutting back again near midfield, directing traffic. A block away from the play canceled the 105-yard return.
“I’ve never been part of a program that had three touchdowns called back on special teams,” Martin said. “We can be dynamic but at the same time we have to be smart. A couple of plays, the blocks that were made, they might have been clean blocks, but they were away from the play. It’s going to be called this year; that’s one of the things we shared with our guys.”
The Mavericks had 499 yards of total offense, bogging down in the second quarter after going up three touchdowns, and the backups struggled at times in the fourth quarter. Tann had 57 yards on 10 carries Brett Ojiyi 56 more on only five carries.
“I was really happy the way we played the first and third quarter,” Martin said. “That’s the way this football team is capable of playing. The second and fourth quarters, not so much.”