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CSU-Pueblo holds off late rally by Midwestern State to stay alive in 2015 playoffs

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Photo courtesy of Bill Sabo, CSU-Pueblo Athletics
Photo courtesy of Bill Sabo for CSU-Pueblo Athletics

The CSU-Pueblo ThunderWolves survived a late game rally by No.1 regional seed Midwestern State University Saturday, to beat MSU 26-17 and advance to the quarterfinals of the 2015 Division II playoffs.

After a hot offensive start in which the team scored 14 points in the games opening quarter, the Pack’s offense failed to capitalize on opportunities, settling for field goals on their next five scoring possessions.

CSU-Pueblo’s rushing attack was revitalized by the return of running back Cameron McDondle, who played the entirety of the game after missing most of the last two contests with a lingering ankle injury.

McDondle appeared in no way hindered or limited, rushing for 160 yards on a career-high 43 attempts. The big game brought McDondle’s season total to 2,129 yards, earning him a new Pack single-season rushing record, eclipsing his own previous previous program best of 2,014 yards set during the ThunderWolves 2014 championship campaign.

For the third consecutive week, sophomore RB Bernard McDondle was a major player for the Pack’s offense, rushing for 161 yards on just 16 carries for an average of 10.1 per-touch and improving upon his best-in-the-nation average of 8.76.

The brothers once again acted as thunder and lightning for the Pack, combining for 321 yards on the ground. With Cameron surpassing the 2,000 yard mark in the contest, the brothers became just the fifth pair of running back’s on the same team to rush for 1,000 and 2,000 yards in the same season in Division II football history.

Despite the big-yardage days from the McDondle brothers, CSU-Pueblo’s offense looked sloppy and inconsistent for much of the contest. The team lost four fumbles, and completed only 3-of-10 pass attempts, leaving the door open for MSU to get back into the game following a 17-0 halftime lead for the Pack.

Both teams struggled mightily on third down throughout the game, with CSU-Pueblo only converting on third down on 2-of-14 tries, a slight advantage over MSU, which converted just one first down on 12 attempts for an 8 percent conversion ratio on the day.

The two teams combined for seven turnovers, with CSU-Pueblo’s top-ranked defense causing two interceptions and recovering one fumble to partially offset the teams four turnovers on the offensive side of the ball.

The ThunderWolves defense came up big when it needed to, holding the Mustangs to just 183 total yards and allowing the MSU offense slightly over 20 minutes of possession in the game, compared to more than 39 minutes with the football for the Pack.

Photo courtesy of Bill Sabo for CSU-Pueblo Athletics
Photo courtesy of Bill Sabo for CSU-Pueblo Athletics

Two redshirt freshman stepped up big for CSU-Pueblo’s defense, with linebacker Brandon Payer leading the team with nine total tackles and six unassisted, and defensive back Darius Williams totaling three tackles while forcing both a fumble and an interception for the Pack.

The win will bring the Pack back home to the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl Dec. 5, to face the No.6 regional seed Grand Valley State, who upset the region’s No.2 seed Ferris State 38-34 on the road in Big Rapids, Michigan, on Saturday.

Eight teams now remain in the NCAA 2015 Division II Football Championship tournament: Shepherd, Slippery Rock, West Georgia, Tuskegee, Northwest Missouri State, Emporia State, Grand Valley State, and of course, the Pack.

With only seven total contests remaining in the 2015 season, CSU-Pueblo now finds itself exactly where it wants to be in the quest to defend its 2014 national championship.