ThunderWolves prepare for playoff opener


Nick Jurney

After a securing the top regional seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA Division II playoffs, the Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves are preparing for their opening game against Grand Valley State University (Mich.).

The 11-0 ThunderWolves will host Grand Valley State on Saturday in the second round of the playoffs after the Lakers routed their in-state rivals Saginaw Valley State 40-7 in the opening round.

Grand Valley State is 10-2 on the season, with both losses coming on the road to Ohio Dominican and Ferris State. The Lakers, out of the Grand Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, secured the fourth regional seed after defeating Saginaw Valley State in the final week of the season, who they also beat the following week to advance in the playoffs. 

The Lakers and the ThunderWolves both bring a dynamic offense to Saturday’s matchup. The ThunderWolves have a slight advantage in the scoring department, averaging 43.8 points per game compared to 36.9 for the Lakers.  

Led by junior running back Michael Ratay, the Lakers have racked up over 2,500 yards on the ground this season, complemented by a passing offense that has accounted for 26 touchdowns and 2,800 yards between two passers.

On the ThunderWolves’ side, the success of junior quarterback Chris Bonner has been well documented. Bonner, recently named the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the Harlon Hill Award, has set school records for passing yards (3,116) and passing touchdowns (30).

 The difference for the ThunderWolves may very well be the play of the defense, which has stifled opponents to 18.5 points per game and an average of only 113.5 rushing yards per contest.

 “(Grand Valley State) is a darn good football team,” said ThunderWolves head coach and RMAC Coach of the Year John Wristen. “It’s going to be a great test for our offense and defense…our guys are excited to go play.”

The ThunderWolves and Lakers will kick off at 12 p.m. on Saturday at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl with a trip to the Division II quarterfinals on the line.