The Chadron State College football team has been striving to get its offense untracked and also is preparing to play “bombs away” on defense as it heads out for another long road trip to play another non-conference game before opening its RMAC schedule at home on Saturday, Sept. 17 against Black Hills State.
Game No. 2 of the 2022 season will be at St. George, Utah, where the Eagles will tangle with what used to be Dixie State, but as of July 1 became Utah Tech University. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both towns are in the Mountain Time Zone.
Located in extreme southwestern Utah, St. George is about 1,200 miles from Chadron and only 400 miles from Los Angeles, according to Google. The climate is so mild that palm trees grow there.
Saturday night’s clash will be the “rubber game” in the series. The Eagles and the Trailblazers played four times after Dixie State joined the RMAC in 2016. Dixie won the first two games 44-27 and 38-24 while the Eagles won the final two 30-9 and 40-27.
Prior to the 2019 game, Dixie State announced that it was leaving the RMAC to join the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC has 13 members, but only five of the others play football. They are Utah Southern and four Texas institutions—Abilene Christian, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin and Tarleton State.
The WAC teams are Division I FCS, which stands for Football Championship Series, the lowest level of DI, with more resources and stronger than Division II, the parent division for the RMAC.
This is the third season for the Trailblazers in the WAC and FCS. As usual, the transition to the new level has been a rocky road. The past two years, they have had a 3-13 record. But it stands to reason that they are improved this year.
Established FCS teams have been eager to put the Trailblazers on their schedules. They anticipated they had found a team in a building mode that would be a soft-touch. The Blazers took their lumps last season. They were 1-10 with their only victory a 62-21 thumping of RMAC member Fort Lewis, which was winless for the season.
Six of 10 teams that defeated the Trailblazers were nationally ranked. No. 1 ranked Sam Houston won 59-10. No. 2 ranked South Dakota State won 55-7. No. 6 Montana prevailed 31-14 for the narrowest point spread in any of the games against ranked opponents.
A year ago, when it was still Dixie State, the first game was against Sacramento State, which won 19-7 in St. George. Those teams also opened this season last Saturday night in the California capital city and the score was much different. Sacramento State won 56-33.
Aided by three Trailblazers’ turnovers, the Sacramento Hornets jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead. One of the hosts’ early touchdowns came on a 98-yard interception return. Sacramento State was ahead 35-10 at halftime and led 49-19 at the end of the third stanza.
The yardage difference was much less than the margin on the scoreboard. The Hornets finished with 589 total net yards and Utah Tech with 579—including 506 passing. Sacramento State got 378 of its yards on the ground.
The Trailblazers threw the ball 56 times, completing 29 of them, including three for touchdowns. Starting quarterback Kobe Tracy, who is 6-foot-4, 195, clicked on 23 of 40 for 339 yards. The leading receiver, was Joey Hobert, a 5-10, 180-pound sophomore transfer from Washington State. He had 11 catches for 183 yards and a TD.
During 2021, Tracy completed 147 of 241 passes (61%) for 1,664 yards. He threw for eight touchdowns and also was intercepted eight times.
Chadron State Defensive Coordinator Clint Sasse said the Eagles are bracing for an aerial onslaught, although Utah Tech might not throw as much as it did in the opener if it is ahead on the scoreboard.
The Eagles will not have two of their starting defensive backs for Saturday night’s game. Both cornerback Jahvonte Hair and safety Brendan Brehmer sustained leg injuries at Angelo State that will sideline them for the season. However, Sasse said their replacements, Byron Kynard and Harvey Reynolds, filled in capably.
Sasse added he’s been searching for others who can help fortify the secondary.
Offensively, both Head Coach Jay Long and Coordinator Micah Smith said the Eagles need improved line play to give quarterback Heath Beemiller more time to spot his receivers and throw. Smith added that the CSC receivers also must catch the ball better than they did in the opener.
Smith was pleased with Beemiller’s mobility and ability to get rid of the ball without being sacked. The transfer from Northern Arizona carried the ball 18 times for 90 yards, but connected on just six of 25 passes for 60 yards.
This is the fourth year that Paul Peterson is the Trailblazers’ head coach. He was the quarterback and team MVP at Boston College in 2004 when those Eagles had a 12-2 record. He and his wife have five sons.