By TODAY writer Jason Cowan on GothunderWolves.com
The ThunderWolves went into the game on Saturday in a familiar position – being in control of their own destiny in the final week of the regular season.
All they had to do was get past the Western State Mountaineers during the fifth annual Hall of Fame Game
The ThunderWolves defeated the Mountaineers 38-13, clinching the outright RMAC title for a third straight season and all but securing the top spot in the NCAA Division II playoff seeding.
“It’s pretty special, we’ve done something only a few teams ever done,” head coach John Wristen said. “If you told us when we started this in August, this chapter of this team, I didn’t know whether we were prepared to do it. These kids kept playing, and playing hard each week and we kept getting better. I’m very proud of them.”
Early in the third quarter, wide receiver Paul Browning broke the single season receiving mark of 994 yards, which was set by John Trahan in 1982, following 38-yard touchdown reception.
“It was definitely a goal going into today, but I tried not to focus in on it,” Browning said. “I tried to focus on getting this win so we could get another championship.”
Browning finished the game with five receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown, finishing the regular season with 50 receptions for 1012 yards and 10 touchdowns, becoming the first receiver in program history to log a 1,000-yard receiving season.
“All the praise goes to the offensive line, they did a good job all year, the quarterback, Chris Bonner (also),” Browning said. “(It was) a whole complete effort, we did a lot of work to get to right now.”
The ThunderWolves, who came into the game as the ninth ranked team in Division II in total offense with 519.2 yards per game finished the game Saturday with 511 yards total.
“I just think we’re throwing the ball down the field, we got more explosive plays,” Wristen said. “We gamble a little bit more on throwing the ball down the field, that’s just how we’re built right now vs. last year.”
In addition to the record setting performance, Bonner, who is also a Harlon Hill award nominee, finished the game with 309 yards and two touchdowns on 17-for-24 passing. Bonner finished a record breaking regular season with 3,116 yards passing, 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
“We were hoping,” said Wristen on whether Bonner could have the season he had. “I thought he had a good spring and I thought he carried over from spring.”
Although the ThunderWolves finished 11-0 in the regular season and won one game in the playoffs last year, Wristen believes that the team going into the playoffs this season is different.
“I think last year we were better on defense and we were pretty good on special teams,” Wristen said. “This year I think we have all three facets and we’re going to be alright.”
If the ThunderWolves, who entered Saturday as the top ranked seed in the NCAA Division II Super Region 4 rankings, remain the No. 1 team by the time of the “Division II Football Selection Show” on Nov. 17 on NCAA.com at 3 p.m., the road to the NCAA Quarterfinals would run through Pueblo, following a first round bye.