November 23, 2013

Football season ends with senior day loss

By HEATHER KENNEDY
UNCBears.com

GREELEY – In the last game of the year for the Northern Colorado football team, the Bears couldn't fight back from a 21-0 deficit at halftime and lost 42-14 to Cal Poly on Senior Day.

Both defenses forced quite a few turnovers in the game, with the Bears (1-11, 0-8 Big Sky) recovering a pair of fumbles and recording an interception for a touchdown, while the Mustangs (6-6, 5-3 Big Sky) intercepted four passes of their own.

"This is the third senior day and for me, what we're trying to do – for this team and for this program – is get it back to winning seasons and championship levels," Head Coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. "It's taking longer than I thought it would and I know some may have given up on it even though we've only been at this level for less than 10 years, but there's no doubt in my mind that we'll build it. These last three years have been trying for us, finding out what kind of team we can be, what kind of team we ought to be and this is going to be a very exciting offseason for us."

Northern Colorado presented a fairly balanced attack on the day with 100 rushing yards and 234 passing yards. Senior running back Tromaine Dennis (Jersey City, N.J.) carried the ball 23 times for 88 yards and added another two receptions for six yards.

Senior wide receiver Will Jefferson Jr. (Moreno Valley, Calif.) had five catches for 60 yards and the team's lone offensive touchdown of the day – on a 27-yard reception – and he added 92 kickoff return yards and five yards each in rushing in punt returns for 162 all-purpose yards on the game.

Fellow senior and tight end Austin Wilbers (Englewood, Colo.) caught a game-high seven passes for 67 yards.

Junior wideout Dimitri Stimphil (Homestead, Fla.) became just the second player in the school's Division I history to top 1,000 receiving yards in a season after grabbing six catches for 54 yards. He ends with 1,002 yards and is one of seven student-athletes to top the one grand mark in UNC's entire history.

Senior quarterback Seth Lobato (Eaton, Colo.) completed 22-of-34 passes for 206 yards. He was sacked once and threw four interceptions for just the second time in his career. Redshirt freshman Sean Rubalcaba (Grand Junction, Colo.) completed all three of his pass attempts for 28 yards and he rushed for another four. He also was sacked once.

Juniors Courtney Hall (Pompano Beach, Fla.) and Leilon Willingham (Denver) each led the team with 12 tackles, while Hall had the interception return 48 yards for a touchdown. Senior defensive end Gavin Miller (Greeley) also added 10 tackles and recovered on of the team's two fumbles on the day, with junior James Davis (Miami) picking up the other.

The game had an unusual start in that both teams turned it over on their first possession. Davis recovered a Cal Poly fumble on the 13-yard line, after the Mustangs had intercepted Lobato. The teams then traded punts.

Cal Poly used a 15-play, 90-yard drive to score the opening touchdown of the game. On their next possession, the Mustangs stretched the lead to 14-0 on a three-yard run by Kristaan Ivory. An athletic, one-handed catch by Austin Albinson from 22-yards out with 10.3 seconds remaining gave Cal Poly a 21-0 lead at halftime.

The Mustangs fumbled their opening drive of the second half, which Gavin Miller scooped up, but the offense turned the ball over on downs after a drop in the endzone.

On Cal Poly's second drive, the Bears again took advantage, Hall picked a pass and returned it for a touchdown, the Bears first defensive score of the year to make the score 21-7.

Cal Poly immediately answered, driving 71 yards in eight plays for the 28-7 lead. The third Mustangs interception of the game led to a 44-yard drive over nine plays for the 35-7 score.

The Bears went 75 yards in seven plays on their next drive, capped by a 27-yard touchdown reception by Jefferson Jr. to pull within three touchdowns, 35-14, but Cal Poly took the wind out of the Bears sails as Alex Hubbard returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for the 42-14 final tally.

"This was a great group of seniors," Collins said. "I wish we could have given them more. These are the guys that stuck with us when we got here – a new staff – and the ones that we brought in that believed in us, so my hat goes off to them for staying. The easy thing to do when things are going bad is to jump ship and we haven't had many kids jump ship. Our kids fight to the end and I'm looking forward to the meeting on Monday so we can start the process to flip it."