A win did not come easily for BR-6 Colorado State-Pueblo in a defensive D2 National Semifinal battle with BR-7 West Georgia. Easy or not though, the Thunderwolves offense rose to the occasion when it mattered most.
Down four with with 9:47 left in the game, Chris Bonner connected with Zach Boyd for a 38-yard touchdown to lift 2-seed CSU-Pueblo to a 10-7 victory over 6-seed BR-7West Georgia, and a berth in the D2 football championship game.
CSU-Pueblo will face BR-1 Minnesota State-Mankato in Kansas City, Kansas on Saturday in the program’s first appearance in the Division II championship game. Pretty remarkable considering the school didn’t even have a football program just eight years ago. They stopped sponsoring football after the 1985 season, and didn’t reinstate it until the 2008 season.
Head coach John Wristen has built the program from the ground up, and now has his team knocking on the door of a D2 title.
“They coolest part is the aftermath, seeing the kids celebrate and everyone come together. That made it worth all the blood, sweat, and tears,” Wristen told the media after the game. “It means more to see those smiles on everybody in the stands than it does anything personally for me.”
The CSU-Pueblo defense forced a quick West Georgia punt on the opening drive of the game, and the ThunderWolves offense drove 68 yards in 14 plays to put kicker Greg O’Donnell in position for the 24-yard field goal that put them up 3-0. After that however, the ThunderWolves offense was unable to do much in the first half. They were forced to punt on their next five drives and only managed another 42 yards before halftime.
West Georgia got the ball back after the field goal and capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dallas Dickey to Shaq Hill. It would be the only score of the day for the Wolves.
After the UWG score, the two teams traded punts until the middle of the second quarter when the Wolves put together an eighty-yard drive down that stalled out at the CSU-Pueblo eight-yard line. The ensuing 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked and recovered by senior Pueblo defensive lineman Josh Bredl. The Wolves got into position for one more field goal attempt at the end of the half, but Hunter Heck’s kick hit the right upright from 37 yards out as time expired in the second quarter.
West Georgia outgained CSU-Pueblo 366-249, led by running back Cam McDondle’s 19 rushes for 76 yards. But the Thunderwolves’ defense bottled up UWG quarterback Dallas Dickey, limiting him to 16-of-28 passing for 166 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, and 39 yards on the ground. They were especially impressive in the second half, limiting UGA to just 151 yards and zero points. Senior defensive end Darius Allen finished with seven tackles, two of the team’s six sacks, three TFL, one forced fumble and a quarterback hurry.
CSU-Pueblo used some creativity on the first drive of the fourth quarter for their go-ahead touchdown. The Thunderwolves faked a reverse and pitched the football back to Bonner, who hit his tight end Boyd for the 38-yard score.
West Georgia marched into the red zone and threatened to take the lead late, but DB LaVon Floyd picked off a Dickey pass in the end zone.
The Thunderwolves have allowed just 16.3 points per game over their three playoff games. They’ll need to continue their stellar defense and hope to continue their penchant for forcing turnovers next weekend in the title game. They’re second in D2 in turnover margin at +1.78 per game. The only game they lost the turnover battle was the only game they lost this season. MSU-Mankato is fifth in the division at +1.5 per game.
You can catch the game Saturday December 20 at 4:00 PM ET on ESPN2. Check back later this week for our preview of the game.