The Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves are moving on to the final four in the Division II college football playoffs for the first time in program history after a 31-28 win over Ohio Dominican.
CSU-Pueblo was red hot, opening the first 21 minutes of the game with a 24-0 lead over the Panthers. But the Panthers battled back late in the second quarter and carried that momentum over to open the second half.
After forcing a ThunderWolf fumble in the second quarter, they would go on to get their first touchdown of the game. Seven of the 21 unanswered points they would post that would bring it to a three point game in the end.
“It seemed like, from that point on, we were fighting to take a breath, but that’s part of a football game. Things aren’t always going to be perfect,” said CSU-Pueblo head coach John Wristen.
“You would think there would be panic, but we didn’t panic. We buckled down and made a few stops,” said linebacker Joe Rosenbrock.
Entering the fourth quarter, CSU-Pueblo hadn’t scored since early in the second quarter and were looking to shift the momentum that was in Ohio Dominican’s favor. The ThunderWolves were able to get the shift they needed on an 83 yard punt return for a touchdown by Daniel Wise, making it 31-21 with 10 minutes left in the game.
After the game Wise said, “I knew if I made this play for my team, we were going to see the ‘promised land.’”
The Panthers didn’t quit, and with eight minutes left, senior quarterback Mark Miller led his team on a 53 yard touchdown drive in 56 seconds to make it 31-28. They received the ball again after forcing a quick three and out from the ThunderWolves, but followed with a quick three and out of their own.
The ThunderWolves ran the clock down and had to punt, leaving the Panthers with a minute and a half left and zero time outs. The Panthers got a first down to their own 36-yard-line, but that’s as far as they could go.
The ThunderWolves defense clamped down and forced three incomplete passes to seal the game and advance once more.
Even though the final score was 31-28, it wasn’t an offensive-friendly game for either side, but CSU-Pueblo running back Cameron McDondle was still able to rush for 103 yards on 26 carries, marking the 10th straight game he’s rushed for more than 100 yards.
After the game Wristen said, “It’s friggin’ cool, I’m excited. We’ve been close, but I always wanted to say we were a part of a Final Four.”
Wise and Rosenbrock echoed Wristen’s sentiments about the final four, but there’s still unfinished business.
CSU-Pueblo will take on the University of West Georgia in the semi-finals of the NCAA Division II championship next Saturday, Dec. 13. The game will be held at 4:30 p.m. in the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl and will also be aired on ESPN3.