CHADRON, Neb. — September 20, 2018 — After pulling out a rousing 31-21 victory over Fort Lewis by exploding for 21 points in the fourth quarter last Saturday, the Chadron State Eagles will try to knock off another western Colorado team this Saturday when they take on Colorado Mesa in Grand Junction. Kickoff will be at 1 p.m.
The Mavericks are 3-0 overall, but have won their two RMAC games by a total of just seven points.
Mesa opened the season by edging South Dakota Mines 36-33 after the Hardrockers had led 17-0 at halftime. This past Saturday, Mesa was ahead by that same score at intermission, but Western State scored on a 95-yard run and a 55-yard pass. Mesa still won 24-20 but last year’s margin was 49-23.
In between, the Mavs downed Eastern New Mexico 34-20 after jumping out to a 28-0 lead in the non-conference tilt.
Last year’s Eagles-Mavericks contest was a stemwinder. Mesa opened the scoring with a 55-yard interception return, was on top 21-0 at halftime and won 24-10. But the Eagles out-yarded the Mavs 515 to 387 and quarterback Dalton Holst, playing just the second game of his career, completed 41 of 73 passes for 459 yards.
Both the number of passes thrown and completed are No. 2 on CSC’s all-time chart and the yardage total is sixth. In addition, Jackson Dickerson set the school record by catching 16 passes.
Holst also connected with Brandon Fullerton on a 76-yard pass to set up a 5-yard scoring toss to Colton Wright, but that was the Eagles’ only touchdown. CSC’s only other points came on a fourth period field goal.
The Mesa ringleader is quarterback Eystin Salum, The 6-1, 185-pound senior was voted the RMAC’s Offensive Player of the Year last fall and was the Preseason Offensive POY this year.
Salum can both run and throw. He’s the Mavericks’ leading rusher this fall with 48 carries for 304 yards and has completed 47 of 95 passes for 634 yards. A year ago, he led the conference in passing efficiency by completing 137 of 245 tosses for 2,465 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also ran for 13 TDs last season.
Some of Mesa’s other big guns from a year ago are missing. They include running back David Tann, who rushed for 1,299 yards and scored a league-high 20 touchdowns; defensive end Blake Nelson, the RMAC Defensive Player of the Year; and Special Teams Player of the Year Virnel Moon, who returned three kicks for touchdowns last fall and some felt was the most dangerous player in the conference.
But CSC defensive coordinator Jeff Larson said Mesa still has many good athletes, including “probably the fastest set of receivers in the conference.”
The Mesa defense includes Tommy Saager, a 6-6 middle linebacker who was a first-team all-conference choice a year ago and is a preseason pick again.
The Mavericks are coached by Russ Martin, a Scottsbluff native who was a Chadron State linebacker in the mid-1970s under coach Sparky Adams. This is Martin’s 40th year in coaching and his seventh at Mesa, where he has taken the Mavs to new heights.
CSC coach Jay Long said Martin is a wily opponent who finds ways to spread the ball around and keep defenses off stride.
Martin’s wife, the former Linda Hraben of Gering, is also a CSC graduate. Their son, Ben, who received his master’s degree from Chadron State in 2008 while spending several years on the Eagles’ coaching staff, is in his third year as the Mesa defensive coordinator.
Mesa has won the last three games in the series, but the Eagles lead it 19-8.