The undefeated run in RMAC competition has ended for the Mines football team as they fell to Chadron State College by a score of 38-31 in a wild game at Don Beebe Stadium in Chadron, Nebraska.
Suffering only their first defeat since losing a tough opening game to Washburn College, the Orediggers could not overcome a slow first quarter that saw the Eagles jump out to an early 21-0 lead. A Clay Garcia fumble on the opening drive for Mines gave Chadron State the ball deep in CSM territory and easily set up a 23 yard touchdown pass from Chadron quarterback Jonn McLain to open the scoring.
The offensive struggles continued for the Orediggers as the next five possessions resulted in punts and produced only three first downs. In contrast, on their first six possessions of the game, Chadron State scored four touchdowns, surrendering only two punts. The result was a 28-0 lead for the Eagles midway through the second period that proved to be a hole to deep for Mines to overcome.
But trailing 28-0, the Orediggers did not surrender easily. Mines scored the final 14 points of the first half and quickly erased any thoughts of a blowout. They continued on their comeback trail to begin the third quarter. A fumble by Chadron State running back Glen Clinton paved the way for a Blaine Sumner one yard rushing touchdown, cutting the deficit to 7. And, early in the fourth quarter, Garcia found wide out Robbin Vinnola for a 19 yard touchdown pass to even the game, turning a Chadron State 28 point lead into history.
But the play of the game came late in the fourth with just over a minute to play in regulation. All the Orediggers had to do to force overtime was keep the Chadron State offense, which had been held to just three points in the second half, off the scoreboard. But with the game tied at 31, a special teams breakdown on the CSM kickoff allowed Clinton to return the kick 88 yards for the eventual game-winning score.
But Mines had one last gasp on the final possession of the game. 58 yards from tying the game with 56 seconds to play, the Orediggers efficiently and methodically worked their way down the field and were in position to score the tying points when Garcia’s last second pass was intercepted at the goal line by Phil Rivera.
For a Mines team that had fought and worked the entire game to catch up, it was a difficult way to lose. Coaches claim that one play never loses a game, and that a contest is won or lost over the course of the entire 60 minutes. But with all the momentum behind the Orediggers and the game tied at 31, one kickoff return crippled the CSM football team and gave them their first conference defeat of the season.
For the Orediggers, running back Dan Palmer led the ground attack with 25 yards on 11 carries. Through the air, Garcia finished with 378 passing yards and three touchdowns, and Vinnola led the receiving core, catching 8 passes for 113 yards for 2 scores. Red-shirt freshman Ryan Moos added 89 yards on 6 receptions. Kaleb Anderson and Ryan Wood each led the defense in tackles with 9.
It was a tough loss, and one that could potentially cripple the Orediggers’ playoff hopes. In Division II, 24 teams are selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament, with each Super Region guaranteed six spots. Prior to the game, Mines was ranked 16th in the nation and 8th in Super Regional Three. With the loss, CSM faces a must-win game next week when they conclude the regular season against Nebraska-Kearney. UNK (9-1 overall, 8-0 RMAC) is currently ranked 9th nationally and 4th in Super Regional Three. The game, which will be Parent’s Day and Senior Day, will be held at Campbell Field Nov. 13. They game could decide the 2010 RMAC regular season champion.