For the Yellow Jackets, the best offense was a good special teams.
The Black Hills State special teams unit scored nine of the Yellow Jackets’ 16 fourth-quarter points against the Fort Lewis College football team, taking advantage of all sorts of FLC miscues to win 23-0 and top off the Skyhawks’ winless season Saturday in a snowy, windy Spearfish, S.D.
Black Hills State’s special teams scored its first six when FLC punter Steven Andrews bobbled a punt snap in the first minute of the final frame. Mitch McDevitt picked up the ball after Trent Butler hit Andrews as he tried to get ahold of it. McDevitt took it 15 yards to the house for a two-touchdown lead.
Andrews, who had his helmet taken off by the hit, was carried off the field on a backboard, then taken to the hospital.
According to an FLC news release, Andrews was released from the hospital at 5 p.m. and cleared to travel with the team back to Durango.
Wide receiver Amery Duncan also made a trip to the hospital with a broken wrist, and a handful of other Skyhawks were forced from the game with injuries.
“Through attrition, we probably lost six or seven starters during the game,” FLC head coach Cesar Rivas-Sandoval said in a news release to the new release.
On the ensuing kickoff, the FLC returner bobbled the ball in the endzone and barely got it out to the 1-yard line to avoid the safety.
Three short plays later, FLC backup punter Cougar Beaubien, also the backup quarterback, booted a punt from 9 yards deep in the end zone into the back of his backpedaling offensive line. The ball bounced out of the back for two more Yellow Jackets’ special teams points.
But Black Hills wasn’t done making use of that safety. Butler rattled off a 39-yard touchdown run after the short safety punt into the wind to go up 23-0 with about 10 minutes to play.
Bulter had 68 of Black Hills State’s 249 yards. Bryer DeSanti led the Yellow Jackets with 103 yards on the ground.
Before the final points, though, senior Skyhawks linebacker Phil Odell broke the FLC career tackling record, wrapping up 15 total tackles Saturday to break FLC Athletic Hall of Famer Shane Voss’ record of 356. Odell now holds the record with 366.
But he couldn’t stop the Yellow Jackets from tallying another score on one of FLC’s four turnovers with about 6 minutes remaining in the first half.
FLC freshman quarterback Jason Fitzpatrick fumbled handing the ball off at about his own 20-yard line. It was the second consecutive play that resulted in a turnover, after Fitzpatrick threw an interception to end the previous drive, also inside the Skyhawks’ 20.
“With bad weather and what we were up against with poor field position, we couldn’t move it,” Rivas-Sandoval said in the news release. “We were able to run the football a little bit in the first half, but the turnovers obviously hurt us. We had planned to use a lot of screen passes against them, but between the wind and the icy balls, we weren’t able to make some plays.”
The Yellow Jackets failed to capitalize on the interception when their field goal attempt came up short into the stiff wind, so when they ended up in a similar fourth-down situation after the fumble, Black Hills State faked a field goal, and Scott Soderstrom scrambled for the first down inside the 5.
DeSanti finished the short drive with a rushing touchdown.
FLC also missed a field goal in the first frame, when Andrews’ kick was blocked.
The Skyhawks’ only other scoring threat came at the end of the second quarter during a long drive that ended with another FLC fumble.
It was Black Hills’ (3-7) first shutout of the season, and the third time this season the winless Skyhawks, who totalled just 160 yards of offense Saturday, were shut out.
This season is FLC’s third season without a win after the Skyhawks finished with no victories in 1998 and 1969.
Still, Rivas-Sandoval is optimistic after a season he sees as building for the future.
“We have a real bright future for a lot of young kids,” he said in the news release. “There’s a lot of key players coming back on offense, and a lot of guys on defense got some really important reps. We’ll only have a season like this once in a lifetime in terms of injuries. We ran out of bullets every week.
“You have to remain positive. There’s hope. People who are close to the program know what I’m talking about. There are bright spots here.”