Fort Lewis College was one or two plays away from a 2-0 start and a huge home-opening win against Dixie State last week. With another chance to stun one of the best teams in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, the Skyhawks aim to finish the job in Week 3.
Seven days after FLC (1-1) fell 23-14 to the Trailblazers, the Skyhawks will welcome Chadron State College (1-1) out of Nebraska at noon Saturday at Ray Dennison Memorial Field on the FLC campus in Durango.
“Last week was a really hard loss because it was such a close game,” FLC head coach Brandon Crosby said. “Those ones are harder to overcome than the one you get blown out in or the ones that are obvious you weren’t in it at all. We did see a lot of good things coming out of it, we now know we can match up with anybody moving forward.
“For us, it’s about making corrections throughout a whole game. Fixing the little mistakes, turning them into success and coming out with a win. The biggest hurdle we’ve seen since I’ve been a coach here is having the guys understand they have to do it for four quarters. We talk about it, preach it, simulate it in practice. It’s about finish, finish, finish. Step up to the plate and put away these games.”
Last season, when Crosby was the offensive coordinator before he took over the team as head coach in January, the Skyhawks went 1-9 overall. Three losses came by one score and another was by only 10 points. That 10-point loss came at Chadron State, where FLC had a 21-17 lead with 8 minutes, 7 seconds to play before a punt was blocked in the end zone and recovered for an Eagles touchdown. Later, FLC would throw an interception returned for a TD, and the game was over.
This year, the goal is to come out on the right side of those games in the fourth quarter.
“We lost a lot of games last year by a couple of players here or there,” Crosby said. “We have the ability and all the tools to be on the other end of those. We gotta be smart about it.”
This season, Chadron State owns a 48-31 road win at Black Hills State but fell 42-21 at home at ninth-ranked CSU-Pueblo. The Eagles boast one of the best offenses in the RMAC with 316 passing yards per game behind quarterback Dalton Holst. Elijah Myles is the team’s elading rusher at just under 100 yards per game. A year ago, FLC held Holst to 221 passing yards, but he passed for two scores. Last year, Myles was the Eagles’ backup running back, and FLC held him to 25 yards on 10 carries.
The defense is the strength of the Skyhawks. Crosby said the goal is for his offense to eat up clock, keep the powerful defense rested and able to compete at an elite level late into the game.
“Last week, we had the ball 11 minutes of the first quarter,” Crosby said. “We had a lot of good things going offensively. The second half, Dixie changed stuff with their front, moved people around and we started making mistakes that we didn’t have the first half. We had a few penalties, fumbled on the goal line, that kind of stuff that we can’t have,”
FLC moved the ball well offensively last week and led 14-0 at halftime. But the Skyhawks couldn’t finish on a couple of key drives int he second half. Jake Lowry, who last year saw his season end because of a leg injury sustained at Chadron State, passed for 212 yards, two touchdowns to Isaac Leppke and one interception against Dixie State. He also ran the ball 11 times for 47 yards, while Jeff Hansen ran 21 times for 69 yards. FLC is thin at running back right now, and keeping Hansen healthy is a priority.
Arealous Hughes hauled in five passes for 62 yards, while Parker Strahler had seven catches for 57 yards. Leppke finished with 54 yards on two catches, including his 41-yard TD reception.
Though Chadron State is more balanced than in years past when it was more run-heavy, the key to the game will still be on the offensive and defensive lines and which team can sustain success up front.
“Chadron has a great offense, a big O-line, speedy running backs and good receivers,” Crosby said. “The heart of our team right now is our defense. We’re going to try to protect them by keeping them off the field as much as we can. We want to utlize the clock and use field position to put us in a good position.
“This game, we definitely gotta show out offensively and figure out who we are.”