The Shockhawks are back, and the Colorado State University-Pueblo football team may never want to return to Durango again.
The last time CSU-Pueblo visited Durango, the Fort Lewis College Skyhawks upset the then second-ranked and eventual national champion ThunderWolves 23-22 in 2014. Three years later, the Skyhawks football team stunned CSU-Pueblo again, toppling the nation’s 12th-ranked team 35-24 on Saturday at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.
“I just think more than anything it’s because we get to play a really good football team,” FLC interim head coach Joe Morris said of the Skyhawks’ success at home against the ThunderWolves. “That’s a really good football team over there. I have a lot of respect for those coaches and those players. I think our guys just have no problem getting excited to play against a great team.”
The ThunderWolves came into the game as the top scoring offense in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and struggled to find success against FLC’s defense. In the first half, the Skyhawks held Pueblo to 93 yards of offense and four first downs.
“The offense did what they had to today, and the defense, as a whole unit, we played good football,” FLC linebacker Isiah Mayberry of Durango said.
The dominant defensive performance carried over to the offense. FLC (3-4, 3-4 RMAC) ran all over the ThunderWolves (5-2, 5-1 RMAC), who also led the RMAC in scoring defense and total defense entering the game.
Fort Lewis piled up 210 yards on the ground, with Tyler Telphy leading the way with 129 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Telphy added 81 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown on five catches.
“The Fort Lewis coaching staff had their kids ready to play, and they outplayed us,” CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen said. “They did an outstanding job.”
The Skyhawks didn’t waste any time taking control of the game. On their second possession, Telphy broke a 73-yard run for a touchdown to make it 7-0 with 6 minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
FLC doubled its lead a few seconds later, as Tyrell Thomas jumped a pass from ThunderWolves’ quarterback Rex Dausin and returned the interception 35 yards for a touchdown.
“That was big time for us,” FLC junior quarterback Bo Coleman said of the defensive performance. “On offense, we want to go out there with a ton of energy, and that’s what the defense gave us. We have nothing but confidence in those guys. They do a great job every week and they really went out there and busted their tails today, and that helped us out a lot.”
The Skyhawks pushed their lead to 21-0 midway through the second quarter, capping a 13-play 87-yard drive with a Coleman to Arealous Hughes touchdown pass from 7 yards out. Hughes made a key leaping catch in traffic for a gain of 39 yards earlier in the drive to help keep the offense rolling.
CSU-Pueblo finally got its offense clicking late in the second quarter with a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with Dausin finding tight end Zach Boyd for a 7-yard score with 2:50 left in the half.
But FLC answered before halftime with another long drive, marching 75 yards on 10 plays with Coleman converting a QB sneak from 1 yard out that sent the game to halftime with the Skyhawks on top 28-7.
On each of the Skyhawks’ drives, the offensive line opened up big holes for the running game.
“I saw a bunch of guys who worked hard during the week and every morning during weights. I saw a bunch of guys who are starting to get to a point where they feel they can control any team that they play,” Morris said of the offensive line.
The FLC defense started the third quarter as strong as its first-half performance and forced a three-and-out, but the Skyhawks muffed the punt, which the ThunderWolves recovered at the FLC 22-yard line.
The Skyhawks defense kept the ThunderWolves out of the end zone after the fumbled punt and held them to a field goal.
“As a defense, we always have confidence in what we do. When we held them up, we knew we could do it,” Mayberry said. “We just kept playing hard, and when you play hard sometimes things go in your favor and today they did.”
The Skyhawks built the lead to 35-10 with 4:49 remaining in the third quarter when Coleman hit Telphy on screen pass on third-and-13 for a 53-yard TD. Coleman finished the game 12-of-20 passing for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
In the fourth quarter, FLC recovered a fumble deep in ThunderWolves territory. But a Coleman pass on third down was intercepted in the end zone and returned to the FLC 45-yard line by Tanner Draper. An FLC penalty during the interception return put the ThunderWolves at the FLC 30-yard line, and CSU-Pueblo was in the end zone a few plays later when backup quarterback Gunnar Lamphere hit Josh Smith for a score to cut the deficit to 35-17 with 9:20 remaining.
Lamphere came in for Dausin in the third quarter. Wristen said the QB change was the result of Dausin getting banged up by the FLC defense. OJ Thompson had two sacks in the game for FLC and another quarterback hit to lead the pass rush.
CSU-Pueblo added another TD with 2:24 remaining in the game on a 57-yard pass from Lamphere to Osha Washington that cut FLC’s lead to 35-24. Washington had a game-high eight receptions and 111 receiving yards.
CSU-Pueblo had one more chance to cut into the lead late in the fourth, but FLC’s Dre Cortez intercepted Lamphere in the end zone to secure the victory.
Lamphere went 7-of-17 passing for 153 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Dausin was 13-of-29 for 98 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
FLC held CSU-Pueblo running back Marché Dennard to 29 rushing yards on nine carries. He entered the game having run for more than 100 yards and two scores in each of the team’s last four games. Austin Micci, another talented CSU-Pueblo runner, was kept in check with 27 yards on eight carries.
Even with the dominant defensive showing all game for FLC, Morris admitted to being a bit nervous during the final minutes of the game when CSU-Pueblo made its push.
“I need to talk to our trainer about keeping Pepto-Bismol on the sideline,” Morris said.