The Fort Lewis College football team wanted to finish the season strong under first-year head coach Brandon Crosby. They were unable to, as clutch short-yardage situations and timely first downs evaded the Skyhawks in a 27-17 loss to South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Saturday at Ray Dennison Memorial Field.
Fort Lewis (3-7, 2-7 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference) finished just 2-of-12 on third-down conversions and were 1-of-4 on fourth-down situations in the loss.
“Offensively, we didn’t show up in the second half and it’s all on me,” said the first-year head coach. “I told the guys after the game that they do not need to feel bad. I have to do a better job and learn from my mistakes, and be better for this school, this football program and for these kids.”
Fort Lewis running back Jeff Hansen led the Skyhawks with 177 yards on 25 carries, while quarterback Erik Ornduff finished 13-of-28 with one interception and two touchdowns. Tight end Zach Russell led FLC with eight catches for 72 yards and scored two touchdowns.
The Hardrockers (3-8, 2-8 RMAC) were led by running back Ahmad Lewis, who scored two touchdowns, and chipped in a hard-earned 119 yards on a stingy Fort Lewis defense. Quarterback Toby Smith finished 19-of-30 with one touchdown and an interception.
The Skyhawks set the tone early on defense, as they were able to come up with a key turnover on the Hardrockers’ opening drive. Lewis was methodical in picking his rushing lanes, and led the Hardrockers to the FLC 10-yard line. On second-and-goal, Smith looked to the right corner of the end zone, but Skyhawks’ safety Max Scott stepped in front of the pass, and returned it to the Hardrockers’ 19-yard line.
FLC was unable to capitalize on its first possession, but Hansen quickly racked up five rushes for 36 yards. Neither team scored by the end of the first quarter, and it was scoreless at 0-0.
In the second quarter, the Skyhawks got on the board first after Ornduff led a long drive. Starting at the 11-yard line, the junior led an eight-play, 89-yard drive. On a key third down, Ornduff found a way to stay alive as he avoided two defenders and found Arealous Hughes for a 28-yard pass to extend the drive. After two sizable runs from Hansen, it set up the touchdown. Ornduff floated a 14-yard pass to Zach Russell in the left corner of the end zone to make it 7-0 with 10:32 left in the half.
The Hardrockers would find a way to respond, and it came through Lewis. Smith led the Hardrockers on a seven-play, 76-yard drive that would result in a score. With the ball in FLC territory, Smith found Carson Hunt for a 36-yard reception down to the 17-yard line. On the next play, Lewis broke a tackle and rushed for the score. The extra point was good, and it was tied at 7-7 with 5:53 to go in the half.
Fort Lewis would re-take the lead on another strong drive. Ornduff found Russell for his second score of the game on a 20-yard fade route to right corner, and FLC led 14-7 with 4:16 left in the second quarter.
The Skyhawks could have capitalized after they recovered a fumble on the ensuing Hardrockers’ possession, but could not take advantage. The Skyhawks took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Fort Lewis opened with the ball to start the half and had a steady drive. Ornduff led the Skyhawks on a 12-play, 68-yard drive that took 6:25. It only resulted in a field goal, as Hogan Keasler drilled a 27-yard field goal to extend Fort Lewis’ lead to 17-7 with 8:25 to go in the third quarter.
South Dakota Mines then answered back with a long drive of its own. The Hardrockers drove 13 plays and went 62 yards which took 4:53 off of the clock, and it ended with a 22-yard field goal from Enis Sefa. It was a one-possession game at 17-10 with 3:30 to go in the third quarter. That was the score after three quarters.
After Fort Lewis punted away its final possession of the third quarter, the Hardrockers took over deep in Skyhawk territory to start the fourth. They had an early fourth-and two from the Fort Lewis 11-yard line, and Lewis gained three yards to keep the drive going. On third-and-goal, Smith found Anthony Ullrich on a 1-yard score to tie the game at 17-17 with 12:45 to go in the game.
The next Skyhawks possession, Fort Lewis had a chance to re-take the lead, but were unable to do so. Ornduff drove FLC to the Hardrockers’ 24-yard line, which was penalty-aided after a personal foul on South Dakota Mines. The drive stalled after Ornduff threw back-to-back incompletions and the Skyhawks turned the ball over on downs.
The Hardrockers made sure they’d capitalize. Smith led South Dakota Mines with two big pass plays, a 19-yard reception to Carson Hunt, and a backbreaking 19-yard pass to Smith on third-and-nine. Three plays later, Lewis broke a tackle, stayed on his feet and scored on a 22-yard run that gave the Hardrockers the lead for good at 24-17 with 7:14 to play.
“Their defensive front is the most difficult to prepare for in the RMAC,” said Hardrockers head coach Zach Tinker. “They changed the look a lot and it’s dynamic. I was proud of how much our guys hung in there. Sometimes you get demoralized when you play against a defense like that, but Ahmad Lewis made some timely plays. We made some second-half adjustments and did enough to win the game.”
Fort Lewis was unable to respond on the ensuing drive, and on fourth-and-one, Ornduff was intercepted, which all but put the game out of reach. South Dakota Mines’ Sefa nailed a 25-yard field goal to make it a two-score game at 27-17 with 2:43 to play.
“Anything and one has been our nemesis all year,” Crosby said. “They were in zero coverage and were going to bring everybody. I liked the play call, but our receivers have to learn to lean into them and get some separation. ... I don’t mind the call, but those plays just don’t go our way right now.”
Crosby learned a lot from his first season in charge, and believes that with a full offseason to recruit, he will get the program closer to where it needs to be.
“The biggest reason why I love being a coach is because the learning never stops,” Crosby said. “I’m not going to lie, sometimes you just have to ride it out the best you can. Coach (Ed Rifilato) was very instrumental, so I’ve learned a lot. My relationships are stronger with this football team, and just overall, I’ll get better and I will fix the problems that we have, and proceed to get this program to where I hope it will and needs to be.”
Colorado School of Mines claimed the conference crown on Saturday, as the Orediggers trounced Chadron State 70-28 (6-5, 5-5 RMAC) in Nebraska.
The Orediggers (11-0, 10-0 RMAC), ranked No. 7 in the nation, wrapped up a perfect regular season for the first time since 2004. They will now await their NCAA Division II football championship fate, as the bracket will be released on Sunday.