For about 20 minutes, the Skyhawks flapped their wings side by side with the Eagles.
Then, the bigger, healthier bird took flight.
The Fort Lewis College football team scored first and hung with Chadron State on Saturday at Ray Dennison Memorial Field, trailing by just one point as halftime approached before two consecutive fumbles provided the Eagles with a big thermal to ride to a 45-20 victory.
“The first quarter and a half, right up to the turnovers, we were playing strong,” FLC head coach Cesar Rivas-Sandoval said.
Steven Andrews kicked a 32-yard field goal less than five minutes in to put the Skyhawks up 3-0, capitalizing on a Chadron State turnover. Mike Campbell picked off Chadron State quarterback Jonn McLain on the game’s first drive.
Chadron State answered with 48-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Chapman Ham to Nathan Ross on a fake reverse, then punched in an interception of their own with a 4-yard run from McLain.
But freshman quarterback Jason Fitzpatrick wasn’t interested in waiting any longer for his first collegiate touchdown: He took the Skyhawks 80 yards, including a fourth down conversion, then scored on a 6-yard touchdown pass to Doyle Bode.
“Greatest feeling in the world,” said Fitzpatrick, who finished the day 15 of 25 for 99 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in place of the injured Tim Jenkins.
“He’s not Tim Jenkins, but he’ll be Jason Fitzpatrick,” Rivas said. “His own special kind of guy.”
The FLC defense forced a 3-and-out, aided by a personal foul on Chadron State, the likes of which plagued the Eagles throughout day. They racked up 121 yards of negative yardage on 14 penalties.
But more so, the Skyhawks just shut down the run, Rivas said. The Eagles had just 56 yards on the ground in the first half.
FLC pulled within 14-13 on another field goal in the second quarter, and the defense forced a second consecutive punt.
“That’s when it kind of went south,” Rivas said.
The Skyhawks fumbled on two consecutive possessions deep in their own territory to give the Eagles easy scores – a 23-yard run from Glen Clinton and a 36-yard field goal from Alex Ferdinand.
“Ball security, man. We preach ball security,” Skyhawks’ senior fullback Zach Moisey said.
The Eagles added one more touchdown before the half on a 43-yard scoring pass, then added two more rushing touchdowns after the half, one of them off of Fitzpatrick’s second interception – the Eagles’ fourth score off of Skyhawks’ turnovers.
“When you get into a slugfest through attrition, they wear you down,” Rivas said of the healthier and more robust Chadron State (8-2, 7-1 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference).
FLC added its final score on a 3-yard Fitzpatrick keeper to cap a 72-yard drive and finish the game with 293 yards of total offense compared to the Eagles’ 419. FLC freshman Josh Beacham rushed for 111 yards.
Moisey called the loss a “moral victory” for a team that’s struggled through injury after injury in a winless season with one game to go.
“They just don’t stop,” Rivas said of his battered team. “They don’t know any different.”