Fort Lewis College needed to hear the sound of canon fire one more time to hear the sweet sound of a musket.
The Skyhawks trailed rival Adams State 34-27 late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s home football game and had two drives in the game’s final 5 minutes, 30 seconds to try to mount a game-tying drive. The first ended with a quick punt, but the Skyhawks would get one more chance with 3:32 to play facing an 80-yard drive, but junior quarterback Bo Coleman was sacked on a fourth down at the Adams State 37-yard line to end the game.
The Adams State Grizzlies took a knee to secure the 34-27 victory at Ray Dennison Memorial Field to take the 52nd Musket Game and reclaim the .45-70 caliber military issue rifle that has served as the traveling trophy for the rivalry. It was donated in 1966 by Maholn “Butch” White and had been won by the Skyhawks the last two years. Adams State won the musket for the 35th time in the series and now leads the all-time series against FLC 38-17-1.
It was another big game for Adams State quarterback Nick Rooney, who passed for 397 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The junior transfer from Rochester Community and Technical College has helped Adams State shock the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference with a 2-1 start and one of the most prolific offenses in all of NCAA Division II.
“I’m a transfer, so I didn’t know the rivals coming in here,” Rooney said. “But the way the energy was from the guys, I felt it through the week. It’s a big rival win, and I’m happy these guys get to shoot that gun off.”
Momentum shifts came in bunches Saturday, as the Skyhawks (1-2, 1-2 RMAC) got off to a strong start offensively but struggled on defense, a stark contrast to the previous two weeks to open the season.
Coleman opened the scoring with an 18-yard TD pass to Mason Hatton in the back right corner of the end zone with a perfect pass over two defenders playing shallow in the end zone. It capped off an impressive seven-play, 85-yard drive on the Skyhawks’ opening drive of the game.
Adams State answered two drives later on a 2-yard TD run by Corey Brown, who finished with 102 rushing yards and two TDs. It capped off an impressive 11-play, 91-yard drive.
Rooney and the Grizzlies would build a lead early in the second quarter, as he hit James Holtop on a 19-yard TD pass to take a 13-7 lead with 8:38 to go in the first half. Then, with Adams State facing fourth-and-2, Brown broke a 45-yard TD run through a massive hole up the middle of the field. He was untouched on his way to giving the Grizzlies a 20-7 lead.
“It’s always devastating if you can’t finish a series on defense,” FLC head coach Joe Morris said. “We’ve done a pretty good job on third and fourth down throughout the season. It’s an explosive offense over there and a dang good QB. That guy might be the best in the conference.”
FLC led a late scoring drive to end the first half but came up short of the end zone and had to settle for a 20-yard Ben Raybon field goal to cut the deficit to 20-10.
After receiving the ball to open the second half, the Skyhawks again marched down the field and scored on a 1-yard TD run by Coleman to trim Adams State’s lead to 20-17.
FLC’s defense did its job on the Grizzlies’ first possession of the second half, pushing Adams State back two yards. The Skyhawks took over on their own 45-yard line and looked to take a lead and secure all the momentum, but the drive stalled as FLC faced a fourth-and-1 from the Adams State 46-yard line. Coleman was hit for a 6-yard loss, and the turnover on downs proved costly for the Skyhawks, as Adams State took advantage with a 24-yard TD pass from Rooney to Holtop to extend its lead to 27-17.
It was the second time in as many weeks FLC failed to convert on fourth down in similar field position, and both resulted in seven points for the opponent.
“It’s six one way, half a dozen another,” Morris said of the decision to go for it on fourth down, especially with a punter who pinned Adams State inside its own 10-yard line three times Saturday. “Part of me wishes I could take that call back, but looking at it, I thought we had some momentum going there and the offense had a chance to go down and get something there.”
FLC tried to answer on the next drive but again stalled inside the Grizzlies’ 10-yard line and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Raybon. On the same drive, the Skyhawks lost senior running back PJ Hall to an apparent right ankle injury. Hall had a huge game with 119 yards on 20 carries before his exit. Morris said his status is unknown going forward.
To make matters worse, Adams State extended its lead to 34-20 immediately after the Raybon field goal. Rooney hit Marquese Surrel on a 65-yard TD pass down the right sideline for a one-play scoring drive.
FLC’s defensive backs began to struggle against deep passes, and defensive end Frank Larriva said the team’s goal was to stop the run and short passes.
“Last week, we hit a lot of short stuff against Western State, so (Fort Lewis) was playing up,” Rooney said. “They came up too much, and my receivers made plays down the field. It opened up, and you take what ya can get.”
The Skyhawks did find life again in the form of a blocked field goal. A 36-yard attempt from Tiago Paim was blocked by Dre Cortez and returned by Tyrell Thomas 57 yards to the Adams State 17-yard line. Tyler Telphy ran in for a 2-yard TD three plays later to bring FLC back within seven points.
Telphy did a strong job in Hall’s place and rushed for a game-high 125 yards and one TD on 13 carries. He also lost one fumble on his first carry of the game late in the first quarter, but FLC’s defense answered with a Donell Pleasant III interception of Rooney in the end zone. It was Pleasant’s second interception in two weeks.
FLC will need a quick rebound, but it won’t come easy with a tough three-game road trip to face No. 11 Colorado Mesa next week and preseason top-25 Colorado Mines the week after. FLC will then visit Western State before finally returning home to play top-25 CSU-Pueblo Oct. 14.
“All we’re focused on period is getting better one day at a time, one play at a time,” Morris said. “It has to do with us preparing every day and doing a great job in practice.”