No. 1 Wolves hold off NMHU

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By Dave Kavanaugh

The No. 1 ranked team in NCAA Division II football, Colorado State-Pueblo survived a stiff challenge from New Mexico Highlands, winning 31-17 Saturday before a packed Thunderbowl in Pueblo, Colo.

CSUP (10-0, 8-0) clinched at least a share of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title with the win. The only thing that would prevent the ThunderWolves from winning it outright would be an unlikely loss at Western State (1-8) coupled with a Chadron State win this coming weekend, the last of the regular season.

NMHU is 7-3 and 6-2.

Nothing was decided until the closing minutes, when the ThunderWolves got an insurance touchdown, Cameron McDondle’s scamper from the Highlands 40-yard line.

That made it a two-possession game with 44 seconds remaining. Just a few minutes earlier, it had been a 17-17 stalemate and anyone’s game to win.

Josh Sandoval of CSUP rushed for the game’s first score at the 4:40 mark of the first period.

Zach Tapia earned the Cowboys’ first points by nailing a booming 51-yard field goal with 11:01 on the clock in the second quarter.

A 44-yard field goal by Greg O’Donnell padded the Wolves’ lead to 10-3 before halftime.

Kevon Williams hauled in a huge 4-yard TD pass from Emmanuel Lewis in the fourth quarter. Tapia drilled the extra point, tying the contest at 10-10.

Highlands chased that scoring drive by forcing a CSUP fumble on the next series; Devin Howard made the recovery. But the Wolves picked off a Lewis pass in the end zone.

That only delayed the Cowboys.

Another Lewis-to-Williams connection set up a Lavelle Peterson go-ahead touchdown run with 11:00 remaining.

A screen pass from Ross Dausin to J.B. Mathews crafted another tie, 17-17, with 7:23 remaining. Five minutes later, Mathews scored the go-ahead run from 2 yards out.

In postgame remarks with KMDZ radio sportscaster Art Abreu, NMHU head coach Eric Young said his team’s turnovers hurt.

“When you play like a quality club like Pueblo, you can’t give them extra opportunities with the ball,” Young said.

Lewis completed 29 of 42 passes for 340 yards but was picked off four times. With that said, Young noted, his QB helped keep Highlands in the game.

As they have all season, penalties hurt too. The Cowboys had to overcome 12 flags costing 118 yards.

NMHU’s improvement has been significant. After an injury-plagued 2011 saw the Cowboys limp to a 4-7 finish, they came within one game of a possible league title.

“We got a good measure of where we are,” Young said in the radio show. “They were motivated (in this game) ... I’m proud of the building block, but we see where we need to go.”