CHADRON, Neb. — October 10, 2019 — The 2019 football season has been unpredictable for the Chadron State Eagles. It was anticipated they would contend for top honors in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, but they are 1-4 at the midpoint of the schedule.
Head Coach Jay Long said neither he nor anyone else connected with the team has given up and they are looking forward to the second half of the season, which kicks off Saturday when the Adams State Grizzlies invade for a noon start at Elliott Field.
“This is a sport that makes you feel so great when things are going well and makes you feel so bad when they’re not,” Long noted. “We have big expectations for this sport in Nebraska. We didn’t think we’d be in this position, but we’re continuing to work hard and haven’t had a bad practice all fall. We’re determined to keep swinging and finish strong.”
Inconsistency has been a problem. It cropped up again last Saturday when the Eagles visited the Western Colorado Mountaineers in Gunnison.
Chadron State drove 86 yards and scored on its first possession for the first time this season. But the Eagles’ offense stalled the rest of the half, allowing the Mountaineers to lead 27-12 at halftime.
The Eagles tallied the next 20 points to go ahead 32-27 with three minutes remaining in the game. But the Mountaineers connected on a 47-yard pass play with 2:35 still showing and won 33-32.
It was Chadron State’s fourth straight setback, and the latest of three consecutive heart-breakers that went down to the wire.
“It came down to one play,” CSC Defensive Coordinator Craig Jersild said. “We’d played a great second half, hardly giving up anything. Then it happened. I hurt for the kids.”
The Grizzlies will come to Chadron with a 3-2 record. Colorado Mines, which is 5-0 and nationally ranked, beat Adams State 41-10 in the season opener. The Grizzlies then defeated New Mexico Highlands 41-27, Black Hills State 45-31 and Western Colorado 38-31, before Fort Lewis pulled off at least a mild upset last Saturday, 28-9.
Adams State managed just 29 yards rushing and completed 17 of 42 passes for 172 yards versus the Skyhawks. The previous week, the Grizzlies rushed for 110 yards and threw for 370 against Western Colorado.
Last year’s game between the Eagles and Grizzlies was a donnybrook. Played in Alamosa, it produced some eye-popping numbers. They included 1,124 total net yards, 18 touchdowns, 167 offensive snaps, 58 first downs and 127 points. The final score was Adams State 65, Chadron State 62.
The Grizzlies never led by more than two touchdowns, but Chadron State led only once–49-45 some 48 seconds into the fourth quarter. Neither team scored in the third period and both tallied 20 points in the fourth.
The Grizzlies piled up 658 total net yards compared to the Eagles’ 466. But Chadron State more than made up the difference on kickoff returns. Jackson Dickerson returned seven kickoffs for 201 yards and Stevann Brown returned three for 116 yards.
Their total of 10 KO returns for 317 yards set a RMAC record.
Despite this year’s win-loss record, the Eagles have impressive offensive punch. They have out-yarded each of their five opponents this fall and are averaging 454.8 yards, second only to Colorado Mines’ 473.2 average in the conference. Adams State is fourth on the list at 402.8.
Eagles’ quarterback Dalton Holst has completed 115 of 215 passes for 1,428 yards and 13 touchdowns, all the top numbers in the RMAC through five games. His 285.6 yards per game passing average also ranks ninth nationally in NCAA II.
The junior from Gillette also had a break-out day running the ball last Saturday, when he carried eight times for 67 yards, including a 46-yard sprint that set up the Eagles’ first of two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
Adams’ quarterback is John Buksa, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior. He’s No. 2 on this year’s RMAC passing chart, completing 87 of 179 attempts for 1,268 yards and 12 TDs. His favorite target is Tariq Bitson, a 6-2, 200 junior, with 34 catches for 713 yards and nine touchdowns, all of them the best in the conference. The yardage and touchdown figures also lead the nation.
Another Grizzlies’ standout is defensive tackle Alani Puputau, a 6-2, 235-pound junior. His 7.5 sacks this fall lead the RMAC and is just half a sack behind the national leader.
Chadron State Offensive Coordinator Logan Masters said from what he’s found while studying the Grizzlies, Adams State has brought in numerous junior college transfers and the defense is much better than it was a year ago.