Capitalizing on mistakes by Chadron State and a couple of plucky play calls, the Fort Lewis College football team clung with the Eagles on Saturday.
For three quarters anyway.
Chadron State picked up steam in the fourth quarter and rolled to a resounding 45-21 victory in Chadron, Neb.
A series of critical mistakes including a fumbled punt, an interception and a safety left Chadron struggling to pull away from the Skyhawks until late in the third quarter.
FLC head coach Cesar Rivas said his defense just “ran out of gas” after hammering at the Eagles’ offense all game and playing through some “really tough situations.”
“I thought we played a very emotional game. I thought we played with a lot of energy, and our kids gave us everything they got,” Rivas said.
The Eagles racked up 398 yards of total offense compared to the Skyhawks’ 187, but many of those yards came as the game closed out. Chadron scored 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“The fourth quarter was tough,” Rivas said. “Seventeen points in the fourth quarter, you’re not going to win very many.”
On 32 attempts, the Eagles’ running backs churned out 148 yards on the ground, while quarterback Brandon Gorsuch threw for 250 on 24 completions out of 37 attempts.
The Skyhawks rushed for just 11 yards on 26 attempts. Tim Jenkins and his receiving corps tried to make up for it by throwing for 176 yards on 24 out of 46 attempts, but Jenkins struggled to slip the grasp of Chadron’s stand-up, “psycho” defensive formation, which swarmed the quarterback throughout the game and sacked him four times for a loss of more than 40 yards.
Fort Lewis converted only one of 17 third-down attempts.
Neverthess the Eagles’ mistakes, as well as some gutsy play by Fort Lewis, allowed the Skyhawks to cling to hope as they played an “inspired” and “very good football game,” Rivas said.
The Eagles’ missteps began on the game’s first possession when a Chadron returner fumbled the Skyhawks’ first punt. Fort Lewis’ Tyree Ogsbury recovered the ball on the Chadron 12-yard line before Van Gramman punched it in from 3 yards out to put the Skyhawks up 6-0 after a missed two-point conversion with more than 11 minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Eagles answered two possessions later, though, with a crushing 10-play, 67-yard drive, taking a one-point lead on a 4-yard pass from Gorsuch to Cody Roes.
The Eagles extended their lead by seven more a few possessions later when Gorsuch rattled off a 40-yard run to put the Eagles up 14-6 with about 5 minutes left in the half.
But just when the game looked like it might turn sour for the Skyhawks, a tipped pass from Gorsuch ended up in the hands of Skyhawk Jason Campbell, who returned the ball 17 yards to the Chadron 10, and Ryan Baldwin put the Skyhawks within six with a 20-yard field goal a few plays later.
The Eagles again answered with a seven-play, 68-yard drive that ended in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Gorsuch to Roes with less than a minute to go in the half. Up 21-9, Chadron slipped up again.
FLC returner Jonathon Price fielded the Eagles’ kickoff on his own 10, before dashing 60 yards to the Chadron 30-yard line. The Skyhawks got a first down and pushed into the red zone before settling for Baldwin’s 22-yard field goal to creep within nine.
“It was an exciting game from the standpoint that it was close, close, close,” Chadron head coach Brad Smith said in a postgame interview on KIUP 930 AM.
FLC wasn’t finished.
Coming out of the locker room at the half, FLC kicked a slow onside kick that the Skyhawks recovered after it was touched by a Chadron player.
Although the recovery didn’t result in a score for FLC, it did allow punter Frank Atherton to pin the Eagles on their own 10-yard line after returner Trelan Taylor picked up a bouncing ball that should have resulted in a touchback.
A personal foul penalty on the following third down pushed Chadron closer toward their goal line, and Joey Alvarez was able to throw Gorsuch to the turf on the next play for the two-point safety.
On the resulting FLC possession, the Skyhawks did what they had done best the whole game: They took advantage of a short field. The Chadron kickoff gave the Skyhawks the ball at their 39, then they marched into the end zone on a six-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by Jenkins.
With the successful extra point, the Skyhawks tied the game at 21 apiece.
“For us to get better every week, we need to do the simple things: Play with energy, and play tough,” Rivas said. This week, the Skyhawks did just that, he said, and it kept them in the game.
“If we can do that we’ll be competitive every single week. We only need to win by one,” he said.
The safety was the last big mistake the Eagles would make and the last time FLC would score for the remainder of play.
“We grew. We grew a lot from last week,” Rivas said. “The kids played so hard, and there’s a lot to be said there. The growth might not be as fast as everyone wants it to be in terms of wins and losses, but I think everyone will be pleased ... down the line.”