Fort Lewis College football can’t keep up with Chadron State in season opener

Eagles dominate second half to pull off win

Fort Lewis running back PJ Hall looks for open field against Chadron State College on Saturday at Dennison Memorial Field. Hall finished the day with 88 rushing yards in the 25-19 loss to the Eagles. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Fort Lewis running back PJ Hall looks for open field against Chadron State College on Saturday at Dennison Memorial Field. Hall finished the day with 88 rushing yards in the 25-19 loss to the Eagles.

Early dominance from the Fort Lewis College football team couldn’t carry the Skyhawks to victory after a momentum swing in the second quarter launched Chadron State College to a 25-19 victory Saturday at Dennison Memorial Field.

Everything looked to be in the Skyhawks’ favor after cornerback Dre Cortez came away with an interception return for a touchdown to stretch the lead to 16-0 early in the second quarter. But it all changed in less than a couple of minutes when the Eagles broke their first big play of the game with a 57-yard touchdown pass.

“Defensively we gave up a couple big plays, and you have to be able to respond,” Fort Lewis interim head coach Joe Morris said. “I thought the guys did a good job doing that, but we have to do a better job of continuing to press and press on both sides of the football.”

The Skyhawks controlled the first quarter on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they beat up on the Chadron State defense with the run, carrying the ball 17 times for 86 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown run from quarterback Bo Coleman. On defense, the Skyhawks were as perfect as possible, holding the Eagles to two three-and-outs and four total yards of offense in the quarter.

After the TD run from Coleman, Fort Lewis made it a 10-0 game with a 37-yard field goal from Ben Raybon.

Fort Lewis (0-1, 0-1 RMAC) took a 16-8 lead into halftime after the Cortez interception and Chadron’s 57-yard touchdown toss from Dalton Holst to Tevon Wright.

The Eagles (1-0, 1-0 RMAC) started rolling in the second half. With a change at quarterback, replacing Holst with Matt Vinson, the Eagles scored on the second play of the third quarter with Vinson finding Stevann Brown for a 75-yard strike that made it a 16-15 game.

“We just needed a spark to change our offense,” Chadron coach Jay Long said of the quarterback switch. “We were struggling, and Matt has been a 16-game starter for us. He’s been in a lot of battles and we put him out there because we knew he’d be able to handle himself in that situation.”

The Eagles took the lead on a 22-yard field goal, then extend the advantage to 25-16 on another Vinson pass, this time finding Colt Foster for a 6-yard score.

Fort Lewis didn’t have many chances on offense to take the momentum back from the Eagles, and had a scare in the third quarter when Coleman needed medical attention after taking a hit. He didn’t stay on the sideline long, re-entering the game on the Skyhawks’ next offensive series, and after the game Coleman said it was just a stinger and he was fine.

Raybon cut the deficit to 25-19 with 7:39 remaining to give the Skyhawks a chance. But the Eagles ate up the rest of the clock, converting two third downs and a fourth down to secure the victory.

One of the biggest issues for the Skyhawks’ offense in the loss was on the offensive line, which struggled to provide clean pass protection for Coleman, who finished the day 6-of-12 for 49 yards.

“We graduated all of our (starting) offensive linemen from last season, so we do have new guys who need to continue to grow as offensive linemen, and as an offense as a whole,” Morris said. “But a lot of times if we put ourselves in third-and-12 and third-and-14 situations, the defense is going to try to dial us up, and they did a pretty good job of doing that.”

Despite struggling to move the ball in the second half – the Skyhawks gained just 83 yards in the third and fourth quarters – Coleman said there is plenty of positives for the offense to look forward to in the rest of the season.

“I think we have a lot of playmakers on that side of the ball,” Coleman said. “From our running backs, all three we’ve got, and our depth of four or five receivers, all of them can make plays. And I think our O-line is going to be just fine. I trust them. We’ll be all right.”

Fort Lewis will play Black Hills State at 1 p.m. next Saturday in Spearfish, South Dakota.

kschneider@durangoherald.com

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