Turnovers hurt CMU in loss to Western
GUNNISON — Colorado Mesa entered Saturday’s RMAC football game at Western State leading the nation in turnovers gained with 31.
Instead of forcing more turnovers, the Mavericks turned the ball over a season-high seven times, and Western State took advantage in a 31-7 victory at the Mountaineer Bowl.
“We’ve got to take care of the football,” CMU coach Russ Martin said. “The thing is, on a couple of them, they were on first-down plays. We had some good things going on, and we lay it on the ground.
“It’s a lack of focus and fundamentals. We gave them a lot of opportunities in the first half, and we couldn’t stop them.”
The Mavericks had two defensive starters out with injuries and a few more playing with injuries on both sides of the ball.
“There is some cumulative stuff, but we are very disappointed in the performance,” Martin said.
Western State (2-7, 2-5 RMAC) snapped an eight-year losing streak to the Mavericks.
“Being senior day at home, it was important for our seniors and this team,” Western State coach Jas Bains said. “We struggled finishing games all season. Today, we showed up in all three phases and did some good things.
“We got a few turnovers early that kept our offense on the field. We were able to move the ball and get in the end zone.”
The Mountaineers, who came into the game at minus-2 in turnover margin, was plus-6 Saturday. It was the Mountaineers’ second win in six games when leading after the third quarter.
“We struggled with (forcing turnovers) earlier in the season, but we’ve actually gotten better at it,” Bains said. “Guys are making a good, conscious effort of knocking the ball loose.”
The Mavericks (5-5, 4-4 RMAC) turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions and six times in the first half to fall behind 24-0 at halftime.
“We dug a super big hole and couldn’t get out of it,” Martin said. “Early on we were moving the football, but we couldn’t hang on to the football.
“When momentum gets going like that, it is hard to change it. It started to snowball.”
The Mavericks fumbled on the first play of their second possession of the game when tight end Drew Holder lost the handle after making a catch. It was Holder’s first fumble of the season.
Western State took over on the Mesa 41-yard line and scored 10 plays later when nose guard Lane Stuht lined up as a fullback and scored on a one-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
“We’ve been working that set for a couple weeks now,” Bains said. “We’re down some linemen, so it was good to see him score.”
Mesa quarterback Aric Kaiser was intercepted on Mesa’s next possession by Gerald Coleman at the Western 34. Freshman running back Austin Ekeler led the Mountaineers into scoring territory, where Ryan Winke hit a 35-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Mesa fumbled the ball on its first play of a possession for a second time in the game when Jerreon Dennis dropped a pitch from Kaiser. Two plays later, Western had a 17-0 lead on Ekeler’s three-yard touchdown run, still in the first quarter.
Jake Cimolino lost his second fumble of the season three plays into Mesa’s next possession at the Western 46 to end the first quarter. The Mountaineers capped the eight-play drive with a Benjamin Kirkwood seven-yard touchdown pass from Brett Arrivey and a 24-0 lead.
“Coach (Todd) Auer does a great job,” Bains said. “His defenses play hard and are physical. Our main goal was not having turnovers, especially against a team number one in turnovers. Our kids picked up some third downs today, and we got good field position.”
Mesa moved the ball into Western territory, but Kaiser was intercepted at the Western 12. The Mavericks’ defense forced Western to kick a 45-yard field goal, and it missed.
After a defensive stop, the Mavericks put together a scoring drive on their first possession of the third quarter, with Kaiser hitting Daniel Perse for a 50-yard score. It was Perse’s first collegiate touchdown.
Mesa trailed 24-7.
Mesa’s defense continued to force the Mountaineers to punt, but the Mavs couldn’t put together any more drives deep into Western territory.
On their next possession, the Mavs crossed midfield, but a false-start penalty pushed them back into Mesa territory. Kaiser was sacked on back-to-back plays forcing a punt. Mesa’s last drive ended with a Zac Stansberry interception. The Olathe High School graduate also had a fumble recovery for the Mountaineers earlier in the game.
Mesa took better care of the football in the second half. The Mavericks only moved the ball into Western territory twice in their five second-half possessions, though.
Kaiser completed 20 of 35 passes for 223 yards with one TD and three interceptions.
Jake Cimolino was held to 67 yards. Mesa was limited to 97 yards rushing — its second-lowest total of the season.
Mesa senior linebacker Jake Edmiston had 14 tackles, including two for a loss and one sack.
Ekeler, a freshman running back, rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry. The Mountaineers ran for 152 yards.