By Josiah Rodriguez and Joe Foley
In front of more than 6,000 people, the ThunderWolves gave fans an unforgettable homecoming memory.
A 34-yard field goal by junior kicker Kyle Major, through the swirling winds at the Neta and Eddie Derose ThunderBowl, sealed a 33-30 triple overtime victory Saturday for the CSU-Pueblo Thunderwolves, and sent the Eagles from Chadron State College back to Nebraska.
The field goal continued the majestic, undefeated season for the ThunderWolves (5-0, 3-0 RMAC).
Major, who was 0-3 on field goal attempts against Fort Lewis College, knew throughout the week that he had to improve on his performance.
“I stayed late after practice and worked on some technique stuff to help me stay accurate,” Major said.
The extra work definitely helped with Major’s accuracy as he also kicked the field goal to tie the game with 2:23 to go in regulation and another game-saving kick in the first overtime with perfect precision. The game-winning field goal was no different.
“I knew the ball was going to go right down the middle when I kicked it,” said Major, who also became the CSU-Pueblo’s all-time scoring kicker on Saturday.
Major would have never gotten the opportunity to kick the winning ball had it not been for the hard-hitting defensive attack by the ThunderWolves on Chadron’s third overtime drive.
A defensive stand against three quarterback sneak attempts by Chadron on the one-yard line helped set up the winning overtime drive for the ThunderWolves.
“How about that stop?” CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen said after the game, in awe of his defense’s performance. “Three downs within a yard and they didn’t get in.”
Wristen raved about the defense’s performance this game, especially when they had their back to the walls because of offensive miscues early in the game.
Quarterback Ross Dausin fumbled on Chadron’s 3-yard line leading to an Eagle touchdown, putting Chadron up 10-0 in the first quarter.
The defense stayed tough however, not allowing any more quality Chadron scoring chances.
“The biggest part in the game that stands out to me in the first half was holding them to a field goal on the first drive. He turned the ball over after that and they punched it in,” Wristen said. “Our defense didn’t panic though and stayed the course, keeping it within 10, and from there, we had a chance to keep the game close.”
After Major’s field goal early in the second quarter, the Pack went into the locker room down 10-3.
Right out of the gate, the Pack’s own special team’s “Thunderbolt,” kick returner Marquise Enoch, returned the opening kickoff 57 yards, down to the ThunderWolves 24-yard line. The Pack would eventually score on running back Jesse Lewis’ 3-yard run to quickly tie the game back up at 10.
Lewis, the offensive catalyst for the ThunderWolves this year, turned in his usual effort, rushing the ball for 118 yards.
It wasn’t until the end of the third quarter that Chadron pulled ahead 13-10 on a 23-yard field goal by Michael Ziola.
Stagnant on their passing attack all game, the Pack decided to switch to their “wildcat” formation, which has been a revelation in their offensive assault all year.
The Pack, using their ace in the hole, University of Colorado transfer Bernard Jackson behind center, formulated a mid-fourth quarter drive that led to a 23-yard rushing touchdown to put the ThunderWolves up 17-13 with 7 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Chadron responded with a five play, two-minute drive that put them back on top 20-17.
After what seemed to be a three-and-out drive on the following possession for the ThunderWolves, special teams surprised the Eagles with a fake punt and a 11-yard run by punter Brandon Kliesen to extend the drive.
An unsuccessful attempt to get into the endzone, after the fake punt conversion by the ThunderWolves, Major kicked the clutch game-tying field goal that sent the ThunderWolves into the epic triple overtime bout.
This is where the ThunderWolves showed their true colors on defense, especially in the front seven of the defensive line.
“We’re tough, every day in practice we bring it, and I wouldn’t want to deal with us,” freshman defensive end Beau Martin said. “The coaches teach the defensive line to be physical, and that’s what you have to do going up against a tough offensive line like Chadron’s.”
Although Chadron quarterback John McLain was able to beat the ThunderWolves defensive backs most of the game, throwing for 179 yards and two touchdowns, it was the Pack’s defensive line that didn’t break.
“I credit those defensive linemen,” Wristen said. “It was a relentless effort by them.”
With the win, the pack now shares a three-way tie with Colorado School of Mines and Nebraska Kearney, who they both play in the next two weeks.
With a tough schedule still remaining, Coach Wristen is taking the “one game at a time” approach in the Pack’s attempt to stay unbeaten.
“We have to take care of business against Mines and that is the only worry right now,” Wristen said.
The Pack takes their undefeated record to Golden, Colo., Saturday to face the Orediggers, a team that embarrassed the Pack at home last year 31-7.