By Brandon Hopper, CSU-Pueblo Today
The wait is over. The countdown has reached zero. Pueblo has college football again.
Weight lifting, conditioning and two-a-day practices culminated in a Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves' 24-13 victory over the Oklahoma Panhandle State University Aggies on Saturday night at the recently finished Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl.
What started out to be a raucous crowd with a rowdy student section leading the way, quickly fell quiet when Darryl Brister returned the opening kickoff five yards into Pack territory.
Three plays later the Aggies found the end zone and left an estimated record-setting crowd of 9,219 stunned in silence.
The lead was short-lived as the Pack converted on each of its first two drives, reclaiming the lead.
Junior Markus Turner (Jr., Peoria, Ariz.) led the Pack with two total touchdowns, one receiving and one electrifying punt return.
"He was playing on a different speed than anyone else on the field," CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen said. "We kept trying to get him the ball a couple of different ways."
Brandon Gray (So., Burdett, Kan.) ran over, around and through the Aggie defense for 108 yards with 1 touchdown. More importantly, the 5-foot-8-inch sophomore running back set the tone in the first half with 75 of his yards.
"Brandon Gray is a warrior," Wristen said. "He was really close to breaking a few (long runs). He's our guy and we're going to make sure we give him every opportunity to be successful."
Not only did the Pack control the running game on the offensive end, it controlled it defensively, too.
Led by Puebloan, strong safety, sophomore Aaron Hernandez (So., Pueblo, Colo.) with three first half tackles, the team held their opponent to just seven yards rushing in the first half. The Aggies finished with 12 running yards while Hernandez finished with five tackles.
"I just wanted to come out and do my job," Hernandez said. "(I was) not trying to be Superman."
CSU-Pueblo President Joe Garcia won an auction with an $1,100 bid last month to call the first offensive play from scrimmage. With a fearless call, he went with a bomb that fell innocently to the turf.
Panhandle State, who is one of only five Division II football programs to be classified as "Independent," lost their 29th straight game, and dropped to 0-2 this year. Their last win was Sept. 17, 2005 with a 17-10 win over Wayne State.
It's no wonder why the Aggies struggle year in and year out; they don't have a kicking game. On their second touchdown, trailing 13-17, they failed on an attempted two-point conversion. On the ensuing kickoff, they attempted an unsuccessful onside kick.
The Aggies have yet to defeat a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference school since joining Division II in 1999 in 22 meetings.
The ThunderWolves will travel to Durango, Colo. next week to take on Fort Lewis College on Sept. 13. Last year the Skyhawks finished the season 1-9 (1-7 in the conference), but will return 13 total starters.
Following the road trip, the Pack will come home to face its first opponent coming off a winning season. Chadron State who finished last year with a 12-1 record (9-1) while winning the RMAC, will come to town on Sept. 20.