An abundance of turnovers is a surefire way to end up on the wrong side of a football game.
Fort Lewis College found out the hard way in Saturday’s season, home and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference opener.
The Skyhawks turned the ball over five times, including four in the first half, and New Mexico Highlands blew open the game in the second half as FLC fell 50-0 on Saturday at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.
“We can’t turn the football over,” FLC head coach Cesar Rivas-Sandoval said. “We’ve got to make sure we can punch it in when we’re supposed to, then we’ll be competitive. Until we can do that, it’ll be tough. That’s on me.”
The bevy of turnovers, coupled with the fact that FLC (0-1, 0-1 RMAC) went three-and-out on all but three second-half possessions – the other three ended in a punt, turnover on downs and the end of the game – allowed the Cowboys (2-0, 1-0 RMAC) to rack up an advantage of 666 total yards to 166.
Quarterback Emmanuel Lewis, starting in place of the injured Taylor Genuser, was the main culprit. The shifty signal caller threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 137 yards and another score as he was able to break containment when the passing game went awry.
“He was definitely quick. It was definitely hard keeping up with him. ... He’s a great athlete,” FLC defensive end Cody Miles said.
Lavelle Peterson carried 20 times for 108 yards and a score for the Cowboys, while Kevon Williams had 89 yards receiving and a score. The receiving corps, led by Williams, Keondric Reynolds and De’joshua Johnson, was able to take advantage of FLC over the middle of the field, gaining quality yardage after the catch on quick slants and digs in the center of the defense.
“We knew what they were going to do, and they’re so quick, it’s hard to wrap up on them,” Miles said.
The turnovers didn’t help, either. N.M. Highlands had the ball for nearly 11 minutes more than the Skyhawks, which allowed the Cowboys to wear down FLC’s undersized defensive line with their bulky offensive line, giving Peterson and Lewis room to run roughshod, particularly after halftime.
“Our problem was we came out in the second half, and our defense played so hard in the first half to save our tail and keep us in the football game, that we just kept putting the defense in bad situations offensively,” Rivas said. “And we couldn’t sustain drives.”
The Cowboys started their 34-point romp after halftime with a Zach Tapia 35-yard field goal. After an FLC turnover on downs, N.M. Highlands scored when Lewis drilled Williams with an 11-yard slant to push the score to 26-0. Two possessions later, Lewis hit Darius Davis on a 9-yard slant to build the lead to 34-0 late in the third quarter.
Lewis and Peterson added touchdown runs in the fourth quarter, with Peterson’s coming after Jonathan Price’s fumbled kickoff, and Tapia hit from 44 yards to provide the final margin.
N.M. Highlands opened the scoring after FLC quarterback Tim Jenkins threw his first of two interceptions as Abdul Kanneh used his physicality – perhaps a bit too much of it – to muscle past Jordan Benton and give the Cowboys the ball. One play later, Lewis hit Johnson for a 31-yard touchdown pass with 5:01 left in the first quarter.
Jenkins’ pass off Aaron Holt’s hands and into the arms of DiAmaal Holmes snuffed FLC’s next drive, but FLC got possession back when Phil Odell picked off Lewis to end the first quarter. The Skyhawks ended up punting, leading to Tapia’s 53-yard field goal with 10:38 to go in the half.
Jenkins and Van Gramman couldn’t connect on the handoff on the first play of the next drive, but N.M. Highlands returned the favor with a fumble of its own. Jenkins fumbled again two possessions later after a promising FLC drive, leading to a Lewis-to-Johnson touchdown pass from 5 yards out and a 16-0 halftime lead.
Adding injury to insult, Jenkins, who threw for 118 yards, left the game on wobbly legs in the fourth quarter after taking some serious punishment throughout the game, including a late hit by Jordan Campbell that had Rivas out at midfield screaming at the officials for more than just a personal foul. Jenkins’ status is uncertain.
“It was a real late hit, and you saw my reaction to it. Tim’s a really good quarterback, and teams are going to play on the verge of sportsmanship with him sometimes, and he knows that,” Rivas said.
FLC will play Football Championship Subdivision opponent Northern Arizona next Saturday in Flagstaff, Ariz.