The No. 13 Colorado State University-Pueblo football team recorded a 39-0 victory Saturday against Fort Lewis College at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl. The program celebrated 20 seniors prior to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference contest.
The ThunderWolves improved to 8-1 overall and 7-1 in RMAC play, as they wrap the home portion of the regular season. The Pack finish with RMAC road games at Black Hills State University Nov. 3 and Western State Colorado University Nov. 10.
The defense posted their first shutout since blanking Black Hills State 49-0 Oct. 21 of last year. It marked the ninth time the ThunderWolves had kept the Skyhawks off the scoreboard in an all-time series that dates back to 1938. CSU-Pueblo allowed just 72 total yards, 55 on the ground and 17 through the air. The passing yards allowed is the least since giving up 14 against Western last season, one week after the shutout. CSU-Pueblo added two more turnovers to the season total, as the ThunderWolves picked up a fumble and an interception to move to 28 takeaways on the season. The team entered the contest ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II in turnovers gained. The nation’s leader in tackles for loss gathered nine against the Skyhawks, which resulted in a loss of 29 yards.
Senior Brandon Payer (Pine, Colo.) has been the leader of the defense for the last two seasons and on senior day he didn’t disappoint. The inside linebacker totaled a team-high 10 tackles (six solo) with a forced and recovered fumble he returned 21 yards. He also added a tackle for loss to increase his RMAC-best total to 16.0 (No. 7 in DII entering the game). Payer now has 358 career tackles to establish the modern era (since 2008) program record. He recorded 100 tackle seasons in 2016 and 2017 and with 81 so far in 2018, is on pace to again reach the milestone.
Senior Michael Wristen (Broomfield, Colo.) added six tackles (three solo) with a tackle for loss. Next were six players with four tackles, which included seniors Jadon Garcia (San Jose, Calif.), Deyon Sizer (Aurora, Colo.) and Darius Williams (Gilbert, Ariz.). Williams added a half sack (-3 yards) and a break-up.
Special teams played a big role in the win. The squad scored a first quarter safety when FLC fumbled a reverse on a kick return and was forced to retrieve it in the end zone where they were tackled. The Pack returned five punts for 93 yards to average 18.6 yards per return, while they added 95 yards on two kickoff returns, an average of 47.5 yards per return. Senior punter Tanner Cuda (Castle Pines, Colo.) punted five times for 245 yards to average 49 yards per kick. He tied a season-best with a punt of 70 yards to completely flip the field in the second quarter. Sophomore kicker Mitchell Carter (Colorado Springs, Colo.) hit three field goals in the first quarter of 36, 32 and 30 yards. CSU-Pueblo also added a blocked punt when Dylan Allbrandt (So., Cañon City, Colo.) got a paw on the ball in the fourth quarter.
The Pack entered the game 14th nationally in kick returns (24.33 yds per return), Cuda was eighth in DII with 43.6 yards per punt and Carter ranked seventh in the nation with 1.38 field goals per game. CSU-Pueblo has totaled four blocked kicks in 2018.
As for the offense, the Pack totaled 195 yards rushing on 43 attempts by 13 different players. The team finished with 358 yards, as they added 163 yards through the air.
Junior AJ Thompson (Denver, Colo.) was 6-for-7 for 48 yards passing and added 47 yards and a touchdown on six rushing attempts. Senior Brandon Edwards (Bothell, Wash.) was 9-for-17 for 98 yards and a 20-yard strike to junior Brandon O’Donnell (Highlands Ranch, Colo.).
Junior Austin Micci (Colorado Springs, Colo.) was the leading rusher with 51 yards on seven attempts to average 7.3 yards per carry. He entered the day ranked ninth in Division II with 7.1 yards per carry.
Senior Bernard McDondle (RB, Littleton, Colo.) scored from nine yards out on one of his four carries (21 yards). Sophomore tight end Preston Guerra (Peoria, Ariz.) recorded the other rushing score, as he lined up in the wildcat and went 24 yards to the house for his first-career collegiate touchdown.
With Carter’s three field goals and the safety, the ThunderWolves led 11-0 after the first. McDondle’s touchdown came with 10:37 left in the second, while the Guerra’s score came with 4:28 remaining in the half. The 10-play, 82-yard drive handed the home team a 25-0 lead it would hold into halftime.
The Brandon-Brandon connection came with 9:42 left in third to put the Pack ahead 32-0. Thompson put the topper on with 5:02 remaining in regulation to push the score to 39-0.