Anybody can beat anybody on any given day and sometimes consistency doesn’t last forever. This is how the Colorado Mesa University football team’s season came to an abrupt halt on Saturday night. Azusa Pacific played their role of spoiler and ruined any chance CMU had at making the NCAA College football Division II Playoffs after a 56-35 upset victory.
“At this point, our guys will be disappointed,” Head coach Russ Martin said. “I think we can compete with anyone in the nation and it’s disappointing that we won’t get the chance to.”
CMU came to California with a five-game winning streak and fresh off of earning a first-place share in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC). Everything was in the right place but Azusa Pacific University (APU) did their job in being the spoiler for the Mavericks.
It was not uncommon knowledge that the matchup against the Mavericks and the Cougars was going to be an offensive shootout, yet the result was not as everyone predicted.
From start to finish none of this game was truly flawless or easy as most of CMU’s season had been up to this point. The first drive of the game ended in Eystin Salum’s first interception of the game after the Mavericks have driven down to APU’s 14-yard line. The Cougars would take advantage of the turnover and take the early 7-0 lead.
The Cougars would force five more turnovers throughout the game, which was one of the few deciding factors in the contest.
“This was a situation you were not gonna win with six turnovers,” Martin said. “We kept our defense out there way to long.”
David Tann would eventually tie up the score to cap a long 12-play drive from the Maverick’s offense. In response, the Cougars offense, led by quarterback Andrew Eiffers, would go on an offensive onslaught to take an eventual 35-14 lead near the end of the first half.
CMU’s special team’s sparkplug Virnel Moon decided to respond in his own way as he kept the Mavericks in the game with his third kickoff return touchdown of the season with 11 seconds remaining in the first half, which cut the lead down to 35-21 heading into halftime.
The third quarter showed what was missing from the first half as Eystin Salum would leave the game for a short time allowing Rope Ruel to come in and lead the Mavericks into the endzone. Salum would return later on and score the tying touchdown with a 44-yard pass to Peter Anderson.
Salum appeared to be cramping in his back for the majority of the game in which could have altered his throwing motion to send the ball higher than intended; therefore, resulting in the five interceptions.
The momentum would not stay in CMU’s hands as the Cougars offense totally took control of the fourth quarter and shut out any chance the Maverick’s had a victory.
The Cougars would go on to score 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to seal the 56-35 victory over CMU.
“There is a standpoint that we could be better in every phase,” Martin said. “But, it was not because of a lack of effort.”
Andrew Eiffers threw 21-37 for 333 yards and six touchdowns for APU. Meanwhile, Eystin Salum finished with five interceptions along with only nine completions and one touchdown.
APU’s defense held the Mavericks offense to only 326 yards of total offense. That was a complete turnaround from where CMU had been in previous weeks where they were one of the best offensive teams in the country.
The six total turnovers killed any momentum the Mavericks had and the Cougars took full advantage of the mistakes.
CMU was not able to take sole ownership of the RMAC championship as CSU-Pueblo defeated Chadron State 28-6 on Saturday.
The Mavericks will miss out on going to the playoffs for the second consecutive year CSU-Pueblo will take CMU’s place and represent the RMAC. CMU has gone 9-2 in three consecutive years but has only made the playoffs in one of those seasons.
The Mavericks season does come to a stop but three consecutive RMAC championships are nothing to underlook; however, one loss at the end of the season will most likely overshadow what was a spectacular season.