Western State Colorado University running back Austin Ekeler stole the spotlight in Saturday’s football showdown in Chadron, rushing for 283 yards in a 24-15 win for the Mountaineers at Chadron State College.
On a day when WSCU’s four-year starting quarterback, Brett Arrivey was unable to suit up due to injury, the senior All-America back provided over 70 percent of his team’s total offense.
The Mountaineers mustered only 30 yards passing on eight attempts, and eight of those yards were recorded on a couple of swing passes to Ekeler.
A 17-0 run by WSCU on its first three possessions of the game gave the visitors the advantage they needed to settle in with a powerful running attack. They gobbled up yards as well as minutes in the first half, winning the time of possession 21:19 to 8:41.
After a fumble by Western State at their own 23, Chadron State got on the board midway through the second quarter, with Matt Vinson hitting Max Gray for the 15-yard passing touchdown. Gray, a sophomore, had his second consecutive game with at least 10 receptions and over 100 yards, catching 10 balls for 111 yards. A Steve Allen-to-Collin Eisenman pass provided a successful two-point conversion after the touchdown, and CSC went into the halftime break down 17-8.
The Eagle defense tightened up in the third quarter, allowing only 33 total yards. The offense also mixed in several wrinkles throwing the Mountaineers off on occasion. Taking the second half kickoff, the Eagles brought in Priest Jennings for the first play of the third quarter, who provided a spark with a 56-yard run. The CSC drive stalled at the Western State 10 yard-line, however, and a Will Morgan field goal went wide left.
Chadron State went 67 yards in 11 plays on its second drive of the half, with Kevin Coy plunging into the west end zone for the Eagles’ second touchdown to pull within 17-15 after the extra point.
CSC saw all six of its possessions in the second half end in Western State territory, but penalties and a surging Mountaineer defensive line proved too much for the Eagles to overcome.
WSCU added an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter as Ekeler ripped off his biggest run of the day, going 69 yards to find the end zone on first down.
Cody Paul was the Eagles’ leading rusher with 58 yards on 10 carries, but Jennings finished with 57 yards on four carries – most of which came on the big play to start the third quarter.
Defensively, Ryan Wood in the secondary had the most tackles with 12 stops on the day, but linebacker Merritt Crabtree and nose guard Mitch Collicott had career games recording eight tackles apiece to tie season leaderCourtland Joshua.