The third-ranked Colorado State University-Pueblo ThunderWolves return home on Saturday to take on Colorado Mesa University, the only Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference opponent that holds an all-time series advantage over the ThunderWolves.
Despite the losing record against the Mavericks all-time, the ThunderWolves have won the past three meetings and seem primed to make it four-straight on Saturday underneath the lights of the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl.
Adding significance to the matchup was the release of the initial NCAA Division II Super Regional Rankings, which placed the ThunderWolves at the top of the Region 4 for the third consecutive season.
The ThunderWolves can essentially run the table for the remaining schedule and set themselves up in great position heading towards the playoffs. A win Saturday against the Mavericks would increase the likelihood of a first-round bye.
“The national ranking means nothing for the playoffs at all,” said head coach John Wristen. “But the regional rankings are very important to us. We’re aware of that, and hopefully our guys realize that we control our own destiny.”
Looking to play spoiler for the Mavericks will be senior linebacker Jake Edmiston, who is at the top of the Division II leaderboard in tackles, averaging 15.5 per game. Edmiston is the anchor of a stingy CMU defense that is ranked 12th in the nation and is tops in takeaways with 27 on the year.
“(Edmiston) flies around,” Wristen said. “He leads the nation in tackles, their defense leads the nation in interceptions, so we have to make sure we don’t turn the ball over and that we get turnovers.”
The CSU-Pueblo offense, led by quarterback Chris Bonner, has yet to find a worthy adversary thus far, posting an astounding 363 points so far on the season. Bonner has a chance to set the single season touchdown record for the ThunderWolves in the game, needing three to break the mark of 25 set by Ross Dausin last season.
One of Bonner’s many targets, sixth-year senior Roger Pfanneschmid, has found himself in the CSU-Pueblo record books as well, becoming the school’s all-time reception and yardage leader for a tight end.
For Pfanneschmid, those records were never anything he thought about, and his sole focus this week is to help the team notch their ninth victory of the season.
“We’re not going to change the way we do things,” Pfanneschmid said of playing the tough Maverick defense. “We have confidence in all of our guys to get our jobs done, so we’re just gonna go out and play our style of football.”
On the other side, the ThunderWolves’ defense has been no pushover on the season either; with an attack style of play that has led to 13 fumble recoveries and 29 sacks on the season.
Sophomore linebacker Ben Estica has proven to be the defensive lightning rod, amassing over eight tackles per game to go with four sacks and two interceptions.
“It’s a dream come true to play on a defense like this,” Estica said. “I trust in the coaches, I trust in the gameplan, and we come out there ready to play every game.”
The ThunderWolves and Mavericks are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, which will be the third game under the lights for CSU-Pueblo.
“It’s tough sitting around all day waiting for six o’clock to come around,” Pfanneschmid said. “The days always go by slow and you wake up ready to get going right away, so there’s a little bit (of extra build up).”