Rain and No. 22 Pack drench defending champs and No. 1 Lions, 23-13

Rain and No. 22 Pack drench defending champs and No. 1 Lions, 23-13

COMMERCE, Texas (Sept. 22, 2018) - The No. 22 Colorado State University-Pueblo football team brought down the defending NCAA Division II Champions and No. 1 Texas A&M University-Commerce in pouring rain Saturday in Commerce, Texas. The ThunderWolves beat the Lions and the wet conditions by a score of 23-13 to secure the program's second victory against a top-ranked opponent.

The teams represent two of the three Division II National Champions in the last four years, while it marked the second win against a No. 1-ranked opponent for the Pack with the other coming against then-No. 1 Minnesota State University, Mankato in the 2014 title game. 

The ThunderWolves (3-1, 2-1 RMAC) were able to prevail in rain that only got heavier as the contest went on, as they recovered four TAMUC (3-1, 2-1 Lone Star) fumbles in the second half and turned them into 10 points. In the end the Pack won the turnover battle with four fumble recoveries and an interception, while coughing up the ball twice in the game. The Lions punter also mishandled a snap that allowed the road team to takeover at the home 27-yard line, which led to the final touchdown of the game for CSU-Pueblo.

The pass game was hindered by the conditions, but the run game wasn't slowed, as the Pack gathered 217 yards on the ground. The ThunderWolves ran by committee with senior Marché Dennard (Phoenix, Ariz.) carrying the ball 17 times for 72 yards, but an apparent injury kept him on the sidelines for the second half. Already missing Bernard McDondle (Sr., RB, Littleton, Colo.), Austin Micci (Jr., Colorado Springs, Colo.) took over and was able to total 69 yards on 22 carries with a third quarter touchdown to hand the Pack a 13-10 lead. Finally, Marcus Lindsay (R-Fr., Aurora, Colo.) was the fourth quarter hero on offense with 8 carries and 40 yards, which included a four-yard touchdown run when the ThunderWolves were facing a fourth and goal from the four. The score handed the Pack a 23-13 lead with 8:14 left in the game.

The defense thrived in the conditions and only allowed six points, as the lone Lion touchdown came on a 72-yard punt return to the paint in the first quarter. CSU-Pueblo allowed just 180 yards total with only 41 on the ground. The home team only recorded nine first downs and were 2-for-13 on third down conversions. In addition to the takeaways, the ThunderWolves gathered two sacks (-13 yards) and nine tackles for loss (-39 yards). 

Senior inside linebacker Brandon Payer (Pine, Colo.) finished with game with a team-high 10 tackles (six solo) with 3.5 tackles for loss (-4 yards). Junior Jackson Wibbels (Colorado Springs, Colo.) added seven tackles (five solo) and two tackles for loss (-4 yards. Senior nose guard Deyon Sizer (Aurora, Colo.) added seven tackles (six solo) with 1.5 sacks (-11 yards). Junior inside linebacker Kyle Rosenbrock (Brush, Colo.) collected two fumble recoveries, just one week after forcing two fumbles.

Senior punter Tanner Cuda (Castle Pines, Colo.) finished with eight punts and an average of 44.0 yards per punt. His long punt of 70 yards helped flip the field late in the third quarter. In addition to going 3-for-4 on field goal attempts, sophomore kicker Mitchell Carter (Colorado Springs, Colo.) added a fumble recovery. 

Texas A&M-Commerce scored the first 10 points and led 10-0 after one. The Pack then won the second quarter 6-0 with field goals from 38 and 20 yards out from Carter. The second field goal was set up by an Emery Taylor (Jr., CB, Aurora, Colo.) interception, his second of the year.

At halftime the rain picked up and the ThunderWolves used it to their advantage by recovering a fumble on a short kick. The recovery didn't materialize into points, as a long field goal attempt missed right, but two more fumbles before the quarter was done. The next fumble, on a bad snap set up the Pack at the Lion 30-yard line. The drive was all Micci and was capped by a 12-yard run to the end zone. On the ensuing kickoff, the home team fumbled again and the ThunderWolves were set up at the TAMUC 18. The Pack used six plays to add 17 yards and a chip shot field goal by Carter had the ThunderWolves leading 16-10 with 7:22 left in the third. 

The top ranked team found a rhythm on a late third quarter drive and turned it into points early in the fourth with a field goal and the CSU-Pueblo lead was just three at 16-13 with 12:39 left in regulation. The final CSU-Pueblo touchdown was thanks to 17 yards by Lindsay and 10 by Micci. The touchdown on fourth and goal handed the ThunderWolves a 23-13 lead with 8:14 left in the fourth.

On the next Lion drive a nice return and a 20 yard pass play to open the drive put TAMUC at the CSU-Pueblo 47, but the next play the Pack defense struck again and forced and recovered a fumble. The ThunderWolves earned one first down before being forced to punt. But the ThunderWolves were able to put a stamp on the victory when a direct snap to Michael Wristen (Sr., Broomfield, Colo.) opened the field for the defensive lineman (and former tight end) to run 30 yards to the home team's 10-yard-line. 

The offense couldn't punch one in late, but the poor field position and soggy, water-logged footballs allowed CSU-Pueblo to cage the Lions and secure the 23-13 upset victory. 

The ThunderWolves now turn their attention to a Homecoming Game Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. against South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. 

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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.