A 6-1 start has the New Mexico Highlands University Cowboys climbing in the national rankings.
This week, Highlands is unofficially 27th among NCAA Division II schools and on the verge of cracking the American Football Coaches Association poll, which officially recognizes the Top 25 teams.
Highlands’ latest ascent in the poll came after the Cowboys pulled out a hard-fought 34-20 win at Adams State (4-3 overall, 2-3 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) this past Saturday in Alamosa, Colo.
Last week, NMHU received eight votes in the AFCA poll, good enough for 32nd.
But the Cowboys garnered 26 votes this week in the poll released Monday. Highlands overcame a 10-0 deficit to defeat a solid Grizzlies team and remain unbeaten in conference play.
NMHU was not the only RMAC team to climb in the rankings.
Colorado State-Pueblo — the only other team thus far unbeaten in league games — is now the No. 1 squad in the nation. Previous No. 1 Pittsburg State (Kan.) lost this past week to then-No. 7 Northwest Missouri State 31-21 and slid to No. 5. Meanwhile, CSUP (7-0, 5-0) rolled past Colorado School of Mines 35-21. The ThunderWolves received 23 first-place votes and 742 points.
This coming week will be the stiffest test yet for the Cowboys. Chadron State (Neb.) will visit Perkins Stadium for a 1 p.m. Saturday game. CSC is 5-2 overall and 4-1 in RMAC play, just one game behind co-leaders CSUP and Highlands.
Every other league school has two or more losses in RMAC games.
Like Highlands, Chadron also received votes in this week’s AFCA poll — five, good for 40th, unofficially.
• • •
Highlands’ performance against Adams State reaped two awards for players. Jordan Campbell was named the RMAC Defensive Player of the Week, and Zach Tapia earned RMAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Campbell, a 6-0, 230-lb., senior linebacker from Corona, Calif., made 17 tackles, including four for loss and two sacks, along with two hurries and one pass break-up. Campbell leads the league in tackles for loss with seven and is second in sacks with five and a half.
Tapia, a 5-11, 190-lb., junior kicker from Roseville, Calif., hit a school record 55-yard field goal and a 32-yarder. He also was 4 for 4 on extra-point attempts.