After defeating South Dakota Mines 29-17 on Saturday in a game that was considered a tossup when it kicked off, the Chadron State football team will try to duplicate that effort Saturday when it hosts another group of future engineers, the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers.
The Eagles are 5-3 for the season and 5-2 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Mines comes in at 4-4 overall and 4-3 in the conference.
The Orediggers have been tough in recent years. The Eagles still lead the all-time series 23-16, but Mines has won the last four contests, including a 40-14 verdict in Golden last year. In that game, Justin Dvorak, who would become the second Mines quarterback to win the Harlon Hill Trophy as Division II’s outstanding player, completed 30 of 41 passes for 384 yards and five touchdowns.
Altogether, Dvorak threw for 4,584 yards and 53 touchdowns last fall. The Eagles are thankful that he and three classmates on offense who also made first-team all-RMAC have graduated. However, the Orediggers are still potent.
Through eight games this year, Mines is fourth in the RMAC in total offense with a 461-yard average, but there’s stronger emphasis on the running game. The Orediggers have rushed for 1,914 yards and passed for 1,774.
Chadron State is sixth in the conference in total offense at 420.5 yards a game. The Eagles have run for 1,263 yards and thrown for 2,101.
The Orediggers’ Cameron Mayberry, a 5-11, 200-pound sophomore, is the conference’s leading rusher with 153 carries for 991 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s this week’s RMAC’s Offensive Player of the Week after carrying 25 times for 217 yards while leading Mines to a 19-17 win over Dixie State last Saturday.
The Diggers’ number one quarterback, sophomore Ben Bottlinger, has completed 125 of 217 passes for 1,671 yards and a dozen TDs. Bottlinger exited last weekend’s game, however, late in the first half, and is not expected to be available on Saturday in Chadron. The backup quarterback, Cody Limmer, led six drives against Dixie State, three of which led to scores in the form of two field goals and a touchdown. Limmer completed 8 of 14 passes for 75 yards, and also ran for 15 on five carries. He was responsible for five first downs, either running or throwing, on those six drives.
The Mines quarterbacks’ favorite receiver is senior Brody Oliver, a 6-3 210-pound junior who has 47 receptions for 717 yards and 12 touchdowns this fall.
Oliver earned first-team all-conference last fall after catching 85 passes, most of them thrown by Dvorak, for 1,627 yards and 26 TDs.
This year’s Mines team is on the young side. Just seven seniors are on the two-deep depth chart. The Eagles have 12 seniors on their two-deep, nine of them on defense.
The Orediggers were blasted 38-7 in their season opener by CSU-Pueblo. They also have lost to Colorado Mesa 38-36, Azusa Pacific 35-21 and South Dakota Mines two weeks ago 37-29 in Rapid City.
Mines has defeated New Mexico Highlands 70-0, Western State 45-7, Fort Lewis 41-7 and squeezed past Dixie State last Saturday in Golden.
The Dixie State game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. Led by Mayberry, Mines had a 430 to 286 bulge in total net yards. The Orediggers never punted.
The Eagles appear to be picking up steam as the season counts down.
Bolstered by the steady play of the offensive line, senior tailback Derek Jackson is averaging seven yards a carry and has scored 10 touchdowns this fall. He’s rushed for 739 yards this season and 2,782 for his career to move into sixth place on the Eagles’ all-time list.
Quarterback Dalton Holst has completed 149 of 277 passes for 1,787 yards and 12 TDs. The busiest receiver is wideout Jackson Dickerson, who had 58 receptions for 600 yards. Next is tight end Colt Foster with 29 catches for 414 yards.
Benefiting from having nearly everyone who was in the primary rotation still healthy after eight games, the defense is improved from a year ago. Sophomore linebacker Keenan Johnson leads the team in tackles with 71 tackles. Twins Ryan and Brian Wood have also been pillars at safety, combining for 112 tackles and five turnovers.
The coaches also say that the six seniors in the line rotation are wrapping up their careers in style. They are Collin Eisenman, Tyler Keiss and Garrett Patterson at the ends and Truett Box, Mitch Collicott and Tanner Wintholz at the tackles.
Head coach Jay Long said several of them are worthy of all-conference consideration and deciding which ones to nominate will be difficult.