To be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s the opportunity the ThunderWolves football team had Saturday, Nov. 26, when they took their undefeated record and number one ranking into first round of the 2011 NCAA Division II playoffs.
The Pack fell short to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 24-21 in their first appearance in the playoffs since 1982 when they were blown out 61-20.
They faced off with the defending national champions and the team who set the standard in Division II football the last few years and won two of the last three championships.
The Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs came into Pueblo with a win already under the belt in the 2011 playoffs. They snuck by Saginaw Valley with a last minute field goal.
The Pack came out hitting on all cylinders on their first drive, showing that the bye week didn’t make them miss a beat. Freshman running back J.B. Mattews finished off an 11 play, 80-yard drive with a 14-yard scamper to give the Pack the early lead.
The Pack defense showed why they earned a number one ranked defense this year by almost intercepting Bulldog quarterback Chase Vogler twice on the Bulldogs opening drive.
After forcing the Bulldog offense to punt, the effects of 27 mph winds took ill effect on the Pack special teams. The Pack received the ball back and was forced to punt after just three plays.
Pack punter Brandon Kliesen had the challenge of kicking into the gusty wind and it didn’t go well. Bliesen was able to punt three yards, giving the Bulldogs the ball deep in Pack territory. The Bulldog offense was held a field goal.
The story of the game was the rushing attacks on both sides. Leading the RMAC in rushing yards, the Pack seemed to have the advantage, not to mention an All-American running back in Jesse Lewis. However, the Bulldogs outperformed the Pack on the ground and out rushed the ThunderWolves 204 to 91.
Vogler lead the entire team and out ran the entire Pack offense with over 100 yards rushing.
“We thought we matched up good with them,” junior Grant Jensen said. “I would compare them to Chadron size wise, but give them credit, they made plays when they needed to.”