I doubt that there were many oddsmakers paying attention to the Mines-CSU Pueblo matchup on September 21st, but they would have probably favored Pueblo. Going into the game, the Thunderwolves were ranked ninth in the country, while the Orediggers were 17th in the national polls. Mines would also be facing the longtime rival on the road in the notorious ‘Thunderbowl’. That didn’t stop Mines from dominating by a score of 34-14 on the road. The Oredigger defense held Pueblo to only 27 yards on the ground and allowed only 13 first downs.
On the offensive side of the ball, Mines veteran players Cam Mayberry and Sean O’Dell performed. Mayberry netted 101 yards rushing including a touchdown, and O’Dell caught 11 passes for 103 yards. But it was a bit of déjà vu from some fresh faces that made the difference in this game. The first three Mines scores were passes to redshirt sophomore Josh Johnston from true freshman quarterback John Matocha (who ran one into the endzone as well to seal the deal). Perhaps more impressively, Matocha (after playing in his second career collegiate game) handled his postgame television interview with class and composure, giving credit where credit is due: to his offensive line, receiving core and running backs.
Matocha, as a newcomer, didn’t have first-hand experience in the Mines-Pueblo rivalry, but it was apparent going into the game that it was a big deal. “You could definitely feel the intensity at practice,” said Matocha. “Of course, I wasn’t here the years before… but I knew what I was getting into, and I was really excited. I just wanted to provide for my team.”
Matocha is off to a quick start, picking up conference offensive player of the week honors twice already. Since making his debut in the second game of the season, he is averaging over 200 yards passing and 45 yards rushing per game (that’s pretty impressive). For reference, as of week four, Matocha currently ranks eighth in the nation in passing efficiency.
The Magnolia, Texas native didn’t always dream of attending the Colorado School of Mines but was convinced after hearing from the Oredigger coaching staff. Mines wasn’t just a chance to continue playing football, it was a place to get a high-quality education. “Coach described it as a ‘set-for-life place,’ and that’s where I want to be,” said Matocha.
The Mines recruit didn’t take anything for granted heading into pre-season. “I knew I’d have to earn my spot; nothing was going to be given to me.” “Earning the starting spot was my goal, and [I] just worked towards that,” said Matocha. “A little piece every day.” After achieving that goal in week two of the regular season, there’s been no looking back.
Last season, a Mines squad led by Isaac Harker, now playing for the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, ranked second nationally in passing offense. Transitioning from a premier high school to the NCAA’s most prolific passing teams can be a bit difficult, but Matocha seems to be adjusting just fine. “My team really makes it easy on me for the adjustment,” said Matocha. “I think that I have a great O-line, a great wide receiving core, and of course I’ve got, not just Cam [Mayberry], but multiple running backs I can rely on. So, I think the transition is pretty seamless.” Having a defense that currently ranks tenth in the nation in yards allowed per game doesn’t hurt either. “I’m just blessed to be on the same team as them,” said Matocha. “They come out week in, week out and just perform. They make it really easy [for] us as an offense.”
As any Mines student should know, the transition to college life, in general, can be a little more difficult. “Definitely managing the workload [is the hardest part so far],” said Matocha. “There’s high standards both on the football field and in the classroom. But luckily I have a great support group of friends and teammates that back me up and help me out when I need them.”
After the Pueblo game, Mines faced New Mexico Highlands at home on September 28th and got off to a slow start. The Orediggers didn’t score in the first quarter, and ended the half ahead by a score of 14-13. “I think we just started playing our game,” said Matocha. “I think we came out a little flat. We definitely weren’t performing as we were capable of. But we were able to turn it around in the second half, we started playing Mines football.” The Orediggers definitely played ‘Mines football’ against Colorado Mesa on October 5th, dropping the Mavericks by a score of 56-20 (and Cam Mayberry become the first Oredigger ever to rush for 4,000 yards in a career). That makes Mines a perfect 5-0 on the season thusfar.
“We just need to take each game one by one,” said Matocha, “not look too far ahead. Respect each opponent. We just gotta focus each week and play our game.”
The Orediggers take on Western Colorado at home on October 12th, followed by the homecoming game on the 19th against Fort Lewis.