No question about it, the Chadron State College football team will have its hands full Saturday, when it plays its homecoming game against the Colorado Mines Orediggers at Elliott Field. Kickoff is set for 1 o’clock, an hour later than usual because of a noon luncheon honoring special alums.
The Orediggers have a new head coach this fall, but return many of the players who have been standouts the last two full seasons, when they have completed their regular-season schedule with a combined 21-1 record (11-0 in 2019 and 10-1 in 2021, losing only to Colorado Mesa 26-21).
Mines’ final record this year won’t be quite as spectacular. Grand Valley State won 25-22 in the season-opener played in Michigan, and Angelo State edged the Orediggers 30-27 in overtime the next week after the Rams had downed Chadron State 35-0 in that opener.
Angelo State is No. 2 and Grand Valley No. 4 in this week’s D2footall.com rankings.
The last two weeks after the RMAC schedule began, the Orediggers have defeated Adams State 84-10 and Colorado State-Pueblo 45-17 after leading 42-3 early in the third period. Five of Mines’ scoring drives vs. Pueblo were for 75 or more yards.
The new coach is Brandon Moore, once a star for the Oklahoma Sooners and a member of the San Francisco 49ers for six seasons. He was a Mines assistant the previous six years and took over when Gregg Brandon retired as head coach after compiling a 59-15 record and leading the Orediggers to four RMAC titles in his six-year tenure in Golden.
Mines returns five first-team all-conference players from a year ago. They are running back Michael Zeman, wide receiver Josh Johnston, defensive end Zach Hester, strong side linebacker Mack Minnehan and punt returner Mason Pierce. All are seniors.
Zeman ran for more than 1,200 yards in both 2019 and 2021 and scored 33 touchdowns those two seasons.
Another Mines standout is quarterback John Matocha, a Texan who was the all-conference pick in 2019 as a true freshman, surprisingly gave way to New Mexico Highlands’ Ramone Adkins in last year’s voting, but is without doubt one of Division II’s top signal callers. So far this year, he’s completed 88 of 124 passes for nine TDs and has not been intercepted.
Johnston has been Matocha’s favorite target this fall, catching 24 passes for 358 yards and three scores.
Mines won last year’s game with the Eagles in Golden 34-7 while sacking CSC quarterback Dalton Holst seven times and limiting the Eagles to just 16 yards rushing. It was Mines’ eighth straight win over CSC. The Eagles had a 23-12 lead in the series prior to that.
The 0-4 Eagles have some good news. The knee injury sustained by this year’s starting quarterback, Heath Beemiller, early in the fourth quarter against Black Hills State was not season-ending. Hopefully be available for most of the second half of the schedule.
Meanwhile, Beemiller’s replacement last Saturday against Western Colorado, Mason Hamilton, did something pretty amazing. Just one of his 51 passes was intercepted, and he competed 55% of them. Hamilton was sacked just twice, albeit once for 18 yards and the other for 10.
One of CSC’s top receivers, senior Ali Musa, didn’t play in Gunnison because of an injury, but returned to practice Monday.