Oct 15, 2011 7:48 PM by Jordan Mason
KEARNEY, Neb. (GoThunderWolves.com - Oct. 15, 2011) - The Kearney Hub newspaper billed it as "one of the biggest regular season games in school history."
If it wasn't for a number-one versus number-two showdown between North Alabama and Delta State on Thursday, it would be the biggest game this weekend in Division II football.
In short, the setting was perfect for a team in just its fourth year as a program to shy from the spotlight.
But in businesslike fashion, the 11th-ranked CSU-Pueblo football team answered the call Saturday afternoon, beating the highest-ranked opponent it had ever faced in school history in the fourth-ranked Nebraska-Kearney Lopers, using a ball hawk defense to claim a 27-14 win.
The win in a game that pitted the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference's only two undefeated teams lifted the Pack to 7-0 on the season and extended its Division II-best winning streak to 11 games.
The way the Pack got the win was through a strong defensive showing that made big plays a habit, and a smart, heady offensive game that also made big plays in key situations.
The ThunderWolves' opening drive displayed their offensive firepower - Ross Dausin methodically drove the Pack down the field, connecting with Jared Sperber for his first collegiate touchdown catch with a pass into a strong wind, putting the Pack up 7-0.
The game was tied at 7-7 when a four-minute, 58-yard drive resulted in a Kearney touchdown by Harlon Hill Award candidate, quarterback Jake Spitzelberger, on a 9-yard quarterback keeper.
After that, scoring slowed to a standstill. The ThunderWolves would add a field goal to take a 10-7 halftime lead, but the next touchdown wouldn't be added until Kearney's Stephan Rush capped a 64-yard drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter, giving the Lopers the 14-10 lead.
It was at that point that the ThunderWolves flipped the switch.
On Kearney's next possession, cornerback Stephan Dickens intercepted a tipped ball at the 12:36 mark, setting up an efficient five-play, 64-yard scoring drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown rush by J.B. Mathews, giving the Pack a 17-14 lead with 10:28 remaining.
The ThunderWolves forced a punt, then drove down for another field goal to take a 20-14 lead with 5:19 remaining.
Smelling blood in the water, the Pack defense attacked, converting another tipped interception two plays later, this time in the hands of Lee Meisner. Though the ensuing drive ended in a Pack punt, the ThunderWolves ate seconds off the clock, giving the ball back with 3:18 left.
On the first play of the drive, Dickens struck again, this time getting a clean interception off of Spitzelberger and taking it to the house, weaving into the end zone for a pick six and icing the win.
The win gives CSU-Pueblo its first 7-0 start since 1980 and just the program's second such start in school history. In handing Kearney the loss, the Lopers dropped its first game at home since the opener vs. Wayne State (Neb.) in 2010. No team has beaten Kearney at home by double-digits since Wayne did the job in the 2008 season opener.
Spitzelberger, one of the national leaders in total offense this season, threw four interceptions for just the second time in his career and first time since a loss his freshman season to Colorado School of Mines. He had just 243 yards of total offense, down considerably from his average of 371 yards per game this season.
The Pack will now return home, where it will host Colorado Mesa next Saturday night.