CHADRON, Neb. — September 6, 2018 — The Chadron State College football team got its season off to a terrific start, outscoring long-time rival Black Hills State 45-8 Saturday night while initiating its spanking new field and stadium.
Now, the Eagles have what is expected to be their stiffest challenge of the season. They meet perennial power and overwhelming preseason RMAC favorite Colorado State-Pueblo in the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl in Pueblo at 6 o’clock Saturday night.
Chadron State coach Jay Long said he and his players know all about the mighty ThunderWolves and are excited to accept the challenge.
“I’ll be disappointed if we can’t run the ball against them and put up a good fight,” Long said. “It’s a chance to play a great team.”
Like the Eagles, Pueblo launched its season in highfalutin fashion Saturday night. The ThunderWolves overwhelmed Dixie State 56-14 in St. George, Utah.
The Wolves, ranked No. 11 this week by D2Football.com, rolled up 496 yards and six touchdowns on the ground and 573 total net yards. Six of their TDs were on plays covering 65 or more yards. One came after Pueblo blocked a Dixie State field goal attempt.
Pueblo led 35-12 at halftime, then added three third-quarter touchdowns, all by alternate tailback Austin Micci. Two of them were on 80-yard jaunts. He finished with seven carries for 177 yards.
Meanwhile, the Wolves limited Dixie State to just 68 yards rushing, had seven quarterback sacks and intercepted three passes. The Trailblazers did complete 16 passes for 185 yards.
About the only glitch in Pueblo’s game was five fumbles, four of which Dixie claimed.
Defense is supposed to be the Wolves’ strength this year.
Seven of the 13 choices on the RMAC preseason defensive unit were ThunderWolves. They are linemen Deyon Sizer and Michael Wristen, linebackers Brandon Payer and Noor Shongolo, and backs Darius Williams, Tanner Draper and Emery Taylor.
All but Wristen were first-team all-RMAC last fall, when Pueblo finished 9-1 in the conference and 9-3 overall. The ThunderWolves’ conference loss was a 35-24 upset by Fort Lewis in mid-October. West Texas A&M edged them 24-21 in the season’s second game and Minnesota State-Mankato beat them 16-13 in the first round of the playoffs.
Only one CSU-P player—running back Marche Dennard—was named to the conference’s preseason offensive unit in early August. He rushed for 1,026 yards last season, including 110 on 25 carries against the Eagles. He rushed just five times Saturday night in Utah, but picked up 132 yards and scored on 19- and 65-yard runs.
Chadron State did not have any RMAC preseason first-team defensive selections for this fall, but senior linemen Jake Geil and Travis Romsa and junior tight end Colt Foster were placed on the offensive unit and punter Zack Kozlik was tabbed as the preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.
The bad news is that Foster suffered a season-ending injury in the opening minutes versus Black Hills State. Long noted that no team can lose one of its best players and not be affected, but believes the Eagles’ depth can take up much of the slack.
The Eagles racked up 461 yards in their season-opener and had no turnovers. Penalties were their biggest flaw. They had 12 for 111 yards.
The Eagles and ThunderWolves met in the regular season finale in Chadron last fall. Pueblo won 28-6 while out-yarding the Eagles 365 to 226. CSC’s touchdown came on a 22-yard interception return by linebacker Tyler Lewis midway in the fourth quarter.
The year before in Pueblo, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead, but the Wolves had whittled it down to 14-13 by halftime and added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one of them on a fumble recovery, to win 27-14.
The Eagles, who had been ruling the roost in the RMAC for more than a decade, beat Pueblo 32-0 in 2008, the first year after that school revived its football program following a 24-year lapse when it was known as the University of Southern Colorado.
The ThunderWolves, have won the last nine clashes with the Eagles, including two that went into overtime early in the series.
Pueblo won the DII national title in 2014.
John Wristen, the only head coach Pueblo has had since it reinstated football 11 seasons ago, entered this campaign with a 95-23 career record and a 77-16 RMAC log.