Pack players exit the ThunderWolf tunnel before entering a playoff game against the University of Indianapolis. | Photo by Jason Prescott
For an elite football program like CSU-Pueblo’s, which has acquired an overall record of 59-5 in the last five years, five wins might not seem like a very difficult task.
After acquiring just one playoff win in the three years previous to last year’s national championship, however, the Pack knows all too well the difference between regular season wins and the playoffs.
It’s not like comparing apples to oranges. It’s like comparing apples to high carbon steel; there is simply no way the two things can be realistically compared. If winning the national championship was like climbing Mount Everest, the regular season would be nothing more than the plane ride to Tibet.
Having won their opening round contest against University of Indianapolis, the climb to the pinnacle of Division II football for the ThunderWolves is currently underway, but the ascent to the top truly begins now.
The first game has been won, and the first step has been taken, but four more huge steps still remain.
Each step will get exponentially more difficult than the last, and it will likely take every bit of grit and determination the team has in order to approach the summit, let alone top it.
Luckily for the Pack, the team has summited this mountain once before.
“I think this year we know what it takes to get there. Last year it was all new for us getting that far in the postseason and this year we know what it’s going to take and we know the level we have to play on defense and on offense to get it done,” said senior linebacker Kevin Cuff.
In order for the team to get back to Kansas City for the 2015 national championship, the Pack will simply have to do the same things it did best all season long.
“If we can go out and play Pack football, I don’t see anybody stopping us,” said senior wide receiver Deontrae Cooper.
First, CSU-Pueblo will need to play tough, stingy defense. The Pack’s defense played outstanding all season, allowing just 14.5 points, 73.5 yards rushing, and 229.2 yards passing per-game over the regular season.
Senior defensive end Morgan Fox was just one sack behind the nation’s lead, despite missing two games due to injury in the middle of the season. The ThunderWolves totaled 35 sacks on the year, to go along with 20 interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
The next pivotal key for CSU-Pueblo in this championship run will be to establish its dominant rushing attack in the form of the McDondle brothers.
Bruiser senior running back Cameron McDondle is currently second in the nation in rushing with 1,969 yards, despite missing the season’s last game against New Mexico Highlands, as well as the majority of last week’s playoff game against UIndy.
His younger brother Bernard, the speedy and elusive sophomore, is also in the top 20 of Division II RB’s with 1,270 yards rushing and a nation-leading 8.76 yards-per-carry.
While Cameron has missed most of the last two games with a lingering ankle injury, his brother Bernard has excelled for the Pack, totaling 375 yards and four touchdowns in his brother’s absence.
Although which McDondle will take the field for the Pack for the majority of this postseason remains to be seen, one offensive strategy has been tried and true for the Pack all season long: If there is a McDondle in the backfield, give that man the ball.
If the Pack can stick to these keys, as well as minimize mistakes and take care of the football by not turning it over, the sky is the limit for the team to defend its title and be the first team to win back-to-back championships since Grand Valley State in 2005-06.The next big step for the Pack comes on Saturday, as the team faces the No.1 seed in it’s region, Midwestern State University.
MSU finished the season with a 10-1 overall record, losing their only game to Texas A&M Commerce back on Oct. 24. The Mustangs have had a balanced offensive attack all season, averaging 32 points, 200 yards rushing and 219 yards passing per-game over the season.
Their defense has forced 25 turnovers, making it crucial for CSU-Pueblo quarterback AJ Thompson and company to secure the football throughout the entirety of the game.
If the Pack can beat MSU, it would have to win two more games to make it back the national championship game.
One more win after that and the Pack takes home the trophy. While four more wins is definitely not an insurmountable obstacle, those four wins will likely be hard-fought for the Pack, on the long and arduous road back to Kansas City.
The mountain lies ahead.
The summit is within sight.
All that remains for the team is the climb.