ThunderWolves hope to make Panhandle first victim

CSU-Pueblo opens 2010 season against the same school it beat 24-13 to open up the historic 2008 season.


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By: Anthony Sandstrom, CSU-Pueblo Athletics

GOODWELL, Okla. - Two years ago, the folks in Goodwell thought they had a sure win on their hands.  Their hometown Oklahoma Panhandle State Aggies were hitting the road to take on a baby football program from a college called Colorado State University-Pueblo.  

The ThunderWolves hadn't played a game in 24 years, and according to the local press, their team consisted of a bunch of guys pulled literally off the street, combined with about 70 freshmen, part of a push to recruit for quantity, not quality.

When Panhandle, though, couldn't shrug off the team of freshmen - nor its 10,000-plus throng of fans that packed the stadium - losing 24-13, it didn't sit well with the folks in Goodwell.

After that game, which was Panhandle's 28th straight loss, one future date was immediately circled - August 28, 2010 - when the Aggies and ThunderWolves would square off again.

But a lot has changed since that magical night in September 2008.

Pack fans certainly know that.

CSU-Pueblo faithful remember that night for what it was - a wonderful win to kick start a new football program - but they also remember a group of kids running around the field, overflowing with green excitement, and in some ways, in way over their head.

CSU-Pueblo went 4-6 that season, and 2-6 after starting the season 2-0 with wins over Panhandle and conference-foe, Fort Lewis.  

"That first year, we were learning to crawl," CSU-Pueblo John Wristen said.  "The next year, we were going to learn how to walk."

The difference between 2008 and 2009 is stark one for the ThunderWolves.  The Pack improved from 4-6 to 7-4, nearly busting multiple school records for total yardage and rushing yardage, and finishing a surprising third in the conference.

Now, just two years later, the team is looking to "learn how to run," trying to make a legitimate push for an RMAC Title in 2010. 

Not bad for a team that barely even existed two years ago.

Though CSU-Pueblo is much different, Panhandle has a similar story.

After losing to CSU-Pueblo, then its next two games, the Aggies' infamous losing streak was at 30-games.

Then Panhandle rattled off three straight wins.  In face, since starting 2008 0-3, the Aggies are an honorable 8-10.  Coach Mike Wyatt is "in it for the long haul", looking to retire in Goodwell and lead his alma mater back to respectability.

Last season, Panhandle went 5-6, including a win over Southwestern Oklahoma, which broke a 25-game losing streak to NCAA Division II teams.

Panhandle, an NCAA Division II independent, plays as an associate member of the NAIA Central States Football League, which means it plays a full conference schedule, but is ineligible for a conference title.

But CSFL competition is comparable to that of Division II, as evidenced by Northwestern Oklahoma State's 34-28 win over CSU-Pueblo in 2009.  NWOSU is a CSFL lynchpin that is a perennial player for the NAIA title.  

But all things being equal, CSU-Pueblo, a sexy pick to take the RMAC in its third season of competition, are heavy favorites.  CSU-Pueblo was ranked 14th in NCAA Division II in rushing last year, return 16 starters from last season, and got much stronger in the offseason with numerous Division I transfers, as well as new starting quarterback, former Butler Community College signal-caller, Ross Dausin.

History is on the Pack's side as well.  Since becoming a D-II program in 1999, Panhandle has never beaten an RMAC school (in 25 meetings).  

While 2010 and 2008 are different for both squads, one thing is for certain - the ThunderWolves expect that the outcome, a "W" for CSU-Pueblo, will be very much the same.