For nearly three quarters the West Georgia Wolves looked like they were going to shock Colorado State University-Pueblo and advance to the finals of the NCAA Division-II Football playoffs. That was until a little trickery gave the ThunderWolves a 10-7 lead with a little under 10 minutes left in the game. From there the team rode its outstanding defense all the way to the championship game in Kansas City next Saturday.
The game looked like it may be a shootout early on. The Wolves got the ball first and were forced to punt after just four plays. CSUP took the ball from their own 25-yard line and moved 68-yards in 14-plays before settling on a 24-yard field goal from Greg O’Donnell. The bulk of the yards on the drive came from running backs Cameron McDondle and J.B. Matthews, who rushed for a total of 32 yards off of 8 carries. ThunderWolves QB Chris Bonner also had two huge pass completions, one to Kieren Duncan for 9-yards and another to Daniel Wise for 26 more.
The Wolves received the ball following the field goal, and put together a lengthy scoring drive of their own. West Georgia quarterback Dallas Dickey had a huge 15-yard pass play to Shaq Hall to get the drive going, and Seth Hinsley had three carries for 16 yards to help keep the ball moving. With the ball at the CSUP 21, the Wolves looked like they were going to see their drive come to an end when Darius Allen sacked Dickey, forcing a fumble, but Dickey was able to recover it. With a second and 19 at the 30, Dickey went back to pass again, finding Hall for the 30-yard touchdown to give UWG a 7-3 lead.
There was 1:50 left in the first quarter and that would be the last scoring anyone would see in this game for nearly 35 minutes of game clock. The defenses simply clamped down from that point. West Georgia was moving the ball, but was not able to get in the end zone. Twice they settled for field goal attempts, but both times came away empty. A 25-yard attempt with 2:45 left of the first quarter was blocked by Josh Bredl, the sixth blocked kick of the season by the ThunderWolves.
Just before the break, West Georgia moved into scoring position again. This time a 37-yard field goal attempt hit the right goal post and bounced back, denying the Wolves points again.
The first half was a defensive struggle to say the least. Following the two scores there were 11 possessions. Eight ended in punts, two in missed field goals, and one possession ended with the half. Seven of the 14 first half possessions were three-n-0uts.
In the second half the two teams did not fare much better on offense. All five possessions of the third quarter ended in a punt, and the Wolves first drive of the fourth quarter ended on a turnover on downs, when Dickey’s pass fell incomplete on fourth and 7.
That gave the ball to Colorado State-Pueblo at their own 35, and this time they were finally going to get their offense moving. McDondle carried the ball of the first two plays of the drive, gaining 13 and 14 yards on the rushes. On the third play of the possession, the CSUP coaching staff pulled out a little trickery. Bonner lined up at the wide out position, as the ThunderWolves set up in the wildcat. At the snap, Bonner came around like he was going to run a reverse, but after the ball was pitched to him he stepped back and found a wide out Zach Boyd down the middle of the field. The TE made the 38-yard catch for the touchdown, and just like that CSUP was back on top, 10-7.
Like the first time they trailed, West Georgia looked like they were going to respond to the score right away. Dickey completed all five of his passes, and Denarius Appling had three rushes for 19 yards to move the ball to the ThunderWolves 12. On second and 4, Seth Hinsley never quite received the hand-off, and the ball was quickly on the ground, but the running back wrestled the ball into his chest to maintain possession. It was big relief that he was able to recover the ball, but the euphoria ended quickly on the next play when Dickey’s pass was picked off in the end zone by LeVon Floyd. Dickey had a man open, but Floyd read the play beautifully, jumping the route to make the interception.
With 2:28 left in the game UWG had one last chance to at least tie the score. Dickey quickly moved his team from his own 33 to the CSUP 39 in five plays. Then the ThunderWolves defense stiffened. On first and 10, Seth Brown chased down the Wolves QB, dropping him for an 11-yard loss. On the next play Joe Rosenbrock sacked Dickey again for a one-yard loss. Following a penalty, UWG was faced with a third and 26. Dickey’s pass for Hall was batted down by Floyd. Emmanuel Taylor then relieved Dickey for the fourth down play. His throw deep down the sidelines was grabbed by Earvin Anumgba, but Harrison Hunter knocked it out of his hands for an incompletion and the game was over.
West Georgia dominated the game for the most part, gaining 366 yards to Pueblo’s 249, and the time of possession favored the Wolves by more than nine minutes. The ThunderWolves really only had two drives where they were able to generate any offense, and unfortunately for West Georgia all it took was those two drives to determine the game.
Bonner finished 10-25 for 157-yards and a touchdown for CSUP. McDondle gained 76-yards rushing on 19-carries. Dickey was 16-28 for 166 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort. Hinsley had 73 yards rushing on 17 carries.
The CSUP defense was led by Jarrod Lacy, who had 11 tackles and a sack. Darius Allen had two sacks and forced a fumble. Floyd had two huge plays in the secondary, intercepting the pass in the end zone, and breaking up a pass play on fourth down. The ThunderWolves recorded 6 sacks on the day.
The Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves now move onto the championship game of Division-II football where they will play the Minnesota State Mavericks. The Minor League Sports Report will preview this game on Thursday.
By Robert Pannier