A disappointing loss sent the Fort Lewis College football team to yet another losing season.
The Skyhawks held a 13-0 halftime lead on Dixie State University but were outscored 23-0 in the second half to lose 23-13 on senior day Saturday afternoon at Ray Dennison Memorial Field in Durango.
“The first half, we shut them down,” FLC junior defensive end Christopher Blanton said. “It was the little things (in the second half). If we could get those little things fixed we probably win the game.”
FLC fell to 5-6 overall with the loss and 5-5 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The Skyhawks were seeking only their 12th winning season since 1963.
Neither team got much going offensively in the first quarter. But in the closing minute, FLC quarterback Nick McNamee, who’s third on the FLC depth chart, hit Ta’Jon Mondy on a quick slant, which went for a gain of 71 yards to get the Skyhawks down to the Dixie State 17-yard line.
McNamee got the start because injuries have ravaged the Skyhawks this season. Starting quarterback Bo Coleman suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago that required season-ending surgery, and backup Jake Lowry sprained an ankle last week and wasn’t able to go for the finale.
FLC couldn’t move the ball anymore, and freshman kicker Ben Raybon connected on a 28-yard field goal that gave the Skyhawks a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Skyhawks added to their lead with 8 minutes, 39 seconds remaining the second quarter. On the scoring play, McNamee rolled left and fired to Mason Hatton in the end zone. Hatton barely got a foot down in the end zone before falling out of bounds. Raybon’s point after attempt was good to make it a 10-0 game.
Raybon added another field goal, this one from 35 yards, in the closing seconds of the half to push the Skyhawks’ lead to 13-0 at the break.
The FLC defense held the Trailblazers to 72 yards of offense in the first half.
“I thought the defense played well all game,” FLC head coach Joe Morris said. “We gave up a few big plays that were crucial, but I thought the defense played lights out.”
The third quarter was one to forget for the Skyhawks.
Dixie got on the board in the third when quarterback Blake Barney hit Josiah Blandin for a 41-yard TD. On the TD pass, FLC defensive back Tyrell Thomas was in position to break it up but misread the ball, as the wind held it up in the air and allowed time for Blandin to jump up and pull down the pass.
On the ensuing kickoff, the wind affected the ball again. The kick fell at the FLC 25-yard line and took a big bounce back to the 40 where the Trailblazers jumped on it to take possession.
Dixie couldn’t do anything with the good starting position, and a long throw from Barney was grabbed by the wind and fell to FLC’s Christian Woo near the goal line for an interception.
The Trailblazers tied the game late in the third quarter. They stopped the Skyhawks on third down to force a punt, but the snap was high and FLC punter Max Peets had to fall on the ball at the 4-yard line.
One play later, Barney kept the ball on a read option and went untouched into the end zone.
“We had a couple of plays that were momentum changers,” Morris said. “We fumbled the ball on the punt and they get it on the (4-yard) line. They kicked the ball and we didn’t catch it. Those two plays changed the entire game.”
The Trailblazers took their first lead of the game in the opening minute of the fourth quarter when Barney scampered 20 yards to a touchdown with 14:28 left in the fourth. The run capped a 6-play, 76-yard drive for Dixie.
The two quarterbacks had opposite outings in the third quarter than they had in the first half.
At halftime, Barney was 2-of-6 passing for 41 yards. In the third quarter, he was 8-of-9 for 109 yards. The only incompletion was the Woo interception.
“They were bringing some pressure in the first half that we didn’t have answers for early, but I thought Blake did well in the second half and managed the game,” Dixie State head coach Shay McClure said. “That’s what we need him to do and he did that.”
McNamee was nearly perfect in the first half and completed 9-of-11 passes for 146 yards and a TD. But in the third quarter, he was just 2-of-7 for 23 yards.
Dixie made it a two-score game with a 40-yard field goal by A.J. Yergensen that pushed the lead to 23-13 with 4:46 left in the game.
The Trailblazers sealed the win with an interception by Jordan Nichols with 3:01 left in the game.
McNamee finished the day 13-of-29 passing for 195 yards with one TD and one interception.
Senior PJ Hall led the Skyhawks with 67 yards rushing.
Barney finished the day 11-of-17 for 150 yards with a touchdowns and a pick. He added 64 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground.
The Trailblazers had 172 yards rushing. Sei-J Lauago led the team with 69 yards.
Dixie State finished the season with a matching overall and conference records as the Skyhawks.
Colorado Mesa University and Colorado State University-Pueblo are co-champions of the RMAC with matching 9-1 records in conference play. There is no head-to-head tiebreaker to determine a conference champion in the RMAC.
“I thought we played some good football. There are places on this team where we need to get better, and we’ll address that in the offseason,” Morris said. “If you look at the season as a whole, we did show improvement from a year ago, but we have to clean up some areas on our team.”
FLC’s defense was its strength all season.It finished the season ranked fifth in the RMAC in scoring defense and was fourth in total defense and rushing defense.
The Skyhawks will lose some key players on defense to graduation, but Blanton believes the defense will come back even better next season.
“We have some seniors leaving this year, but next year we’ll be better,” he said. “Next year we’ll be way better. The RMAC’s not ready for us next year.”