Photo by Brian Wagenaar

The Mountaineers (4-1 RMAC, 5-1 overall) returned to their winning ways last Saturday, Oct. 9, pulling out a Homecoming weekend win 45-38 in a close, high-scoring matchup against New Mexico Highlands University, who dropped to 1-5 overall. 

The team is now ranked #24 in the Division-II coaches’ poll, the first time they have earned a ranking since the poll’s inception in 2000. The Orediggers from the Colorado School of Mines, the Mountaineers’ lone loss on the season in a tightly contested 20-14 game, currently sit at fifth.  

The Mountaineers struggled early in front of an energized home crowd, falling behind 14-3 after the first quarter. Junior quarterback Connor Desch could not find a consistent rhythm early, and was unsettled by consistent pressure from the Cowboys’ defense. He took two sacks on the day. 

Fourteen of Desch’s eighteen incomplete passes came in the first half, but Desch hit his stride late, guiding the Mountaineers on three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Western took advantage of a handful of explosive plays to rack up more than 160 yards through the air in the second half.  Desch finished at 14-33 on the day, good for 240 total passing yards to five different Western receivers. 

Connor Desch drops back to pass

Photo by Brian Wagenaar

Senior Will Lydle, a stalwart on the defensive line, injected energy into the Mountaineers team with an explosive play of his own early on, a 17-yard scamper on a fake punt to extend a drive late in the first quarter. Unfortunately, a holding penalty soon after forced the Mountaineers to punt it away. 

Another explosive play was a 59-yard touchdown pass from Desch to redshirt sophomore Damian Macias barely a minute into the second half. Desch also made a huge third down run on a broken play to sustain a drive near the end of the 3rd quarter. The next snap, redshirt sophomore running back Josh Cummings took it 36 yards to the house to tie the game at 24 all. 

But the Cowboys came out swinging in the 4th quarter, completing a 75-yard drive started in the third quarter for a touchdown. Desch’s lone interception on Western’s next drive set up the Cowboys to score again, starting at Western’s 17-yard line. The Cowboys, despite taking a sack on first down, required only three total plays to score and go up 38-24 with just 11:30 to play. 

But the Mountaineers quickly countered, getting a huge reception by James Bryant which went for 77 yards. Desch took it into the end zone himself two plays later. A recovered onside kick near midfield on the next play set up another Western touchdown, evening the score once again. 

The Mountaineer defense forced a three-and-out on the next series, and redshirt sophomore Deyvon Butler and Cummings teamed up to account for all 67 yards gained on the next series, scoring a touchdown after a recovered Mountaineer fumble on the 1-yard line. The Cowboys fumbled the kickoff return on the next play, allowing the Mountaineers to run out the clock and seal the victory. 

Photo by Brian Wagenaar

The Mountaineer defense, allowing just 54 total points through the first five games, settled for bending and not breaking in the Homecoming Victory. Cowboys quarterback Ramone Atkins threw the ball 49 times, completed 32 attempts to eight different receivers for 383 yards, four touchdowns, and an impressive 157.9 quarterback rating. Atkins also rushed for 60 yards, discounting the four sacks he took, forcing the Mountaineers to respect his running ability. 

The Mountaineers got it done on offense with a more balanced attack, outrushing the Cowboys 233-83 on 50 combined attempts, 31 of which went to Cummings, who racked up four touchdowns and 164 yards; good for a 5.3 carry average. Cummings now has over 640 rushing yards on the season, which is a little more than 100 yards per game. 

Defensively, redshirt junior defense back Tim Mullin recorded a team-high 11 tackles for the game. Four Mountaineers defenders combined to record four total sacks. The team has collectively recorded 27 sacks through 6 games. 

Next up, the Mountaineers face off against the Yellow Jackets from Black Hills State University (S.D.) on Saturday, Oct. 16 at the Mountaineer Bowl, at 1 p.m.

Photo by Brian Wagenaar