By Brian Wagenaar
Mountaineer Football is off to an historic 4-0 start to the season, rattling off three conference wins to take their place atop the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) after being picked to finish 5th in the 10 team conference by preseason pollsters. As of today, Western boasts one more conference win than in-state rivals Colorado Mesa (2-0 RMAC, 3-0 Overall) and Colorado School of Mines (2-0 RMAC, 4-0 Overall).
The Mountaineers will travel to Golden, CO to face off against #5 ranked Mines in their biggest test of the season thus far this Saturday, Oct. 2nd. Western is not yet ranked in Division-II polls, but the Mountaineers are riding high after a 42-0 dismantling of Fort Lewis College last Saturday. The Skyhawks gained just 59 total yards, compared to the Mountaineers’ 376.
Western already beat the 6th (Chadron State), 9th (Adams State), and 10th (Fort Lewis) placed teams in the conference, but the schedule toughens up a bit in October. The team starts with a home game against New Mexico Highlands (7th in the RMAC, 1-3 Overall), and later plays Black Hills State on October 16th (5th in the RMAC, 3-1 Overall). Then, Western has a pre-Halloween date with undefeated Colorado Mesa (2nd in the RMAC) on October 30th for Western’s Family Weekend.
The Mountaineers have excelled on both sides of the ball, racking up more than 34 points on offense per game, and limiting their opponents to just 8.5 points against. The team has found balance offensively, averaging more than 180 yards on the ground and 211 through the air, with 9 touchdowns apiece for the rushing and receiving units.
Josh Cummings (83 carries and 7 TDs), a redshirt sophomore, and Braedan Hogan (33 carries and 2 TDs), a true freshman, have shouldered the load in the ground game, combining for more than 500 net yards on more than 4.5 yards per carry to open up space for the passing game.
Redshirt junior quarterback Connor Desch has played well in 4 games of work, completing 61% of his passes for all 9 of the team’s passing touchdowns, including an 84-yard toss to redshirt sophomore receiver Deyvon Butler. Four of Desch’s five interceptions on the season happened on the road against Adams State.
Western has spread the ball out on the receiving side, with seven different receivers notching five or more completions. That group is led by true freshman Cole Riters, who has caught 13 passes for 217 yards. Cameron Colangelo and Damian Macias, both redshirt sophomores, along with Malik White, a redshirt senior, all caught two touchdown passes apiece.
The stifling Mountaineer defense, critical for the Mountaineers’ early success, has been led by redshirt seniors Will Lydle at the defensive end and Lane Farris at linebacker. The duo have combined for 12.5 tackles for loss (TFL), and 5 sacks on the young season. Collectively, the defense is averaging 4 sacks per game for a season total of 16. Robert Garlock, a redshirt junior, leads the team in total tackles with 25, with Farris just one tackle behind.
The Mountaineers have seven games left on their regular-season schedule to build on their previous success, with six in-conference matchups remaining. They will host Lincoln University out of California on Nov 6 for their Military Appreciation game, before wrapping up their regular season with a potentially huge game against Colorado State University-Pueblo on Nov. 13 (Senior Day) at the Mountaineer Bowl.
Redshirt junior offensive lineman (#75) Kaleb Gaster hoists freshman running back Braeden Hogan (#42) into the air in celebration