The Fort Lewis College football team is feeling refreshed heading into its final matchup of the regular season on Saturday against South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, as the Skyhawks are coming off a bye week. Fort Lewis first-year head coach Brandon Crosby said his team is eager to end the season with a win.
Fort Lewis (3-6, 3-6 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) is coming off of a 21-13 loss to Colorado State University-Pueblo on Nov. 2, and after the Skyhawks lost a number of players to injury in that game, Crosby said that his team is healthy for Saturday’s clash at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.
“The bye helped us out as far as getting healthy,” Crosby said. “I just talked to the team about being able to start something and finish it. Regardless of how our season has gone, we’ve stuck together, the locker room is good and these kids have fought hard and are ready to go for Saturday’s game. It should be a good one.”
FLC starting running back Jeff Hansen is returning from injury, as are three receivers, Isaac Leppke, Arealous Hughes and Markez Boykin – all three were injured in the loss to the ThunderWolves.
The Skyhawks will continue to look for balance on offense, as Hansen leads the team in rushing with 494 yards and has scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Erik Ornduff has thrown for 997 yards on the year, as well as six touchdowns and four interceptions.
Leppke has been Ornduff’s main target, as he has hauled in four touchdowns for 200 yards, while Parker Strahler leads the team with 329 yards.
The Hardrockers (2-8, 1-8 RMAC) are led by running back Ahmad Lewis, who has rushed for 1,266 yards, seven TDs and has played in all 10 games this season. Quarterback Toby Smith has thrown for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns but has been intercepted eight times. Their leading wide receiver is Carson Hunt, who has caught 28 receptions for 462 yards, and has scored four times. Joe Luebbers has also had a strong season with 25 receptions, 303 yards and four touchdowns.
“South Dakota Mines is a good team and will be a challenge,” Crosby said. “They’re similar to us as far as their record goes, and they’ve caught a bit of momentum. They’ve lost their last two, but have been really close, like us. They have been putting up some really good points, and are leading the nation in defensive takeaways. There is no easy game in the RMAC, and you have to prepare your guys to finish the entire game. It’ll be a really good win for us, or a really bad loss.”
The Hardrockers’ defense is certainly something that Crosby and the offense will have to keep an eye on. South Dakota Mines has caused 21 takeaways on the year, as it has recovered 10 fumbles and intercepted 11 passes.
It is tied for the most defensive touchdowns in the nation with seven. It has five interceptions returned for touchdowns, and has recovered two fumbles for touchdowns.
Crosby was reminded of last year’s 35-34 overtime loss in which the Skyhawks had a number of chances to put the game away, but it ultimately was decided by a missed 35-yard field goal attempt from Beau McCannon at the end of regulation that would have won the game for the Skyhawks.
“We’ve struggled kicking the ball ever since we’ve been here,” Crosby said. “It cost us a collective of five or six games. It was a really close game last year, and it was really tough to have the season that we did, to have the bye and then drive the 12 hours to lose. We competed and had an opportunity to win, and I don’t see why we won’t do the same thing this year.”
In order for the Skyhawks to come out with a win, Crosby said his team will have to have its best offensive performance of the season, and will also be relying on a strong defensive performance to get the win. With it being senior day, Crosby has also harped on getting the most out of his first senior class in charge.
“They’ve seen all of the different shades of Fort Lewis football,” Crosby said. “We believe that we’ve turned the corner as a program, and I want to let them know that they’re a big part of the direction we’re trying to move. Hopefully, we can be very successful for years to come, and they’re the ones that catapulted that knowing that they’re a part of the change moving forward.
“4-6 sounds a lot better than 3-7. We’ve been in a lot of close games that we should have won, and have been in some games where we just didn’t show up. A win at the end of the season would be huge for this program moving forward. It’s a huge game for the kids, and I’m excited to see what we can do on Saturday.”