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FLC football surges on offense, but Highlands emerges victorious

Skyhawks fall in conference opener 31-17
Cameron Mack of Fort Lewis College runs the ball on Saturday while playing New Mexico Highlands University at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Skyhawks rifled off 343 yards of total offense and pulled within a single score of New Mexico Highlands University twice, but the Cowboys proved too difficult to contain and rode off with a 31-17 victory on Saturday in front of 2,164 fans at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.

Fort Lewis is now 0-3 overall and 0-1 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference while New Mexico Highlands advanced to 2-1, 1-0.

“The guys brought a ton of energy into today, battled back and forth through the momentum, and got to the point where a few different plays go a few different ways and we're victorious in this game,” FLC head coach Johnny Cox said. “You put your heart and soul into it, those guys tried hard, but it just didn't go our way today. This group is resilient, they're learning that, and that resiliency will give us a chance to be successful.”

Tristen Williams, left, and Parker Cunningham of Fort Lewis College make a tackle on Saturday while playing New Mexico Highlands University at FLC. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Highlands marched down the field on its opening drive for the first touchdown of the afternoon. Fort Lewis couldn't move the ball into NMHU territory on its opening drive, but the Skyhawks were able to force a three-and-out on the Cowboys' second.

Fort Lewis then reached the Cowboys’ red zone, but missed a field goal and New Mexico Highlands found the end zone again five plays later.

Hunter Villavicencio connected on his next kick and put FLC on the board with an 18-yard field goal. The Skyhawks then tried a heave as time expired, but came up empty and the Cowboys took a 17-3 lead into halftime.

Out of the intermission, the Skyhawks marched downfield and into the end zone. Cameron Mack tossed a reverse to Mikal Baker for seven yards and his first collegiate touchdown, cutting the lead to 17-10.

New Mexico Highlands came up empty in the third quarter, but answered in the fourth quarter with a 15-yard receiving touchdown to take a two-score lead.

A defensive pass interference bailed the Skyhawks out on fourth-and-14, and Mack made the Cowboys pay with a three-yard rushing touchdown – the first rushing touchdown of his career – to pull FLC back within seven.

Fort Lewis nearly took possession right back on a muffed kick, but Highlands recovered and then marched downfield to score the final touchdown of the game.

While the Skyhawks put up 343 yards of total offense, surpassing 300 for their third straight game for the first time since 2016 – NMHU found the edge with 372 total yards, including 210 on the ground.

Cowboys quarterback Joey Cave completed 10 of his 13 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown. Cave was also NMHU's leading rusher with 95 yards on 11 attempts.

Wingle was 22-for-30 for 199 passing yards while Stone Walker was four-for-nine in his collegiate debut for 59 yards.

Neither side turned the ball over, but New Mexico Highlands had just four penalties for 49 yards compared to Fort Lewis' 11 for 101.

The Skyhawks have now scored 48 points in their first three games, equal to as many they scored in their first six games last season.

Next, FLC will play Adams State University during rivalry week. The game will kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday in Alamosa.