As the Colorado School of Mines football team brings home the NCAA Division II Runner-Up trophy, the Golden Transcript offers a look back at the Orediggers' historic year.
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The Colorado School of Mines football team grew tremendously over the last five months. The team started out with two consecutive losses before winning 13 straight to make it to the first NCAA Division II National Championship appearance in the program's history.
While defending champs Ferris State defeated Mines 41-14 in the Dec. 17 title game, Coach Brandon Moore believed Mines will remain a football powerhouse and championship contender in the coming years.
As the Orediggers bring home the NCAA Division II Runner-Up trophy, the Golden Transcript offers a look back at the team's historic year.
The story of Mines football’s 2022 season really begins almost a year ago. The team lost its first-ever NCAA semifinal game to Valdosta State 34-31 on Dec. 11, 2021.
Despite the loss, Moore — who was defensive coordinator at the time — later said the Orediggers learned they belonged in those big games.
Moore was named Mines’ new head coach on Jan. 31, 2022. He and his colleagues worked to ensure the core of last year’s team returned, including almost 30 fifth- and sixth-year seniors.
Moore described later how the reason everyone stayed was because they believed they could win a national championship.
By the first week of practice in August, the Orediggers were excited to see so many talented and leadership-minded starters return. Linebacker Nolan Reeve described how he and his fellow seniors understood what standards they must meet to repeat last year’s successes and more.
Moore said of putting together a successful 2022 team: “We won’t be starting from zero; we’ll be starting from at least halfway.”
The regular season
The Orediggers went into the season ranked in the Top 10 nationally, but their first two games were against fellow Top 10 teams. Their Sept. 3 season opener was at Grand Valley State, and then they hosted Angelo State on Sept. 10.
Mines lost both games by three points — the second one in overtime.
Moore reflected on Dec. 13 how both those losses were extremely tough, but he knew the team would bounce back and accomplish great things. If anything, he said, losing those first two games only helped the Orediggers become better. Now, they know the difference between a winning culture and a losing culture, he continued.
Mines rallied after its first two losses and started rolling through its conference schedule. After the Oct. 8 homecoming win, the team was 4-0 in RMAC play and 4-2 overall.
The only conference game that appeared challenging for the Orediggers was the Oct. 29 game at Western Colorado. Mines was down by 10 as the fourth quarter started, but the team regrouped and scored 20 unanswered points to win 30-20.
On their Nov. 12 Senior Day game, the Orediggers destroyed Fort Lewis 80-0. Mines won the conference title for the fourth straight year, and the 2022-23 senior class became the winningest in program history.
Now, as the Orediggers described, it was time to start the so-called second season.
In the NCAA Division II tournament bracket, Mines was named the No. 2 seed in Super Region IV. And, for its first game of the postseason, the team was facing off against a familiar foe — fellow RMAC team CSU-Pueblo.
The Orediggers beat the Thunderwolves 45-17 in Golden earlier in the season, and the Nov. 19 playoff game proved a similar story. Mines won 45-24.
For its second-round opponent, Mines would be playing No. 3 seed Minnesota State on Nov. 26. The Mavericks proved a tough opponent even with Mines playing at home.
Mines was down 14 points in the first half but regained momentum thanks to three Josh Johnston touchdown receptions. At halftime, the game was tied at 28.
In the second half, the Orediggers tried to create some breathing room, but the Mavericks wouldn’t quite go away.
With two minutes left in the game, Minnesota State narrowed Mines’ lead to three points. The Mavericks went for an onside kick, which bounced through the first Oredigger’s hands, but was secured by the second. After that, the Mines fans celebrated the narrow but certain victory.
Next on the slate was a Dec. 3 quarterfinal game at undefeated No. 1 seed Angelo State — the team responsible for Mines’ only home loss of the season.
As Mines supporters watched from the visitor stands or online from Golden and beyond, Angelo State committed three turnovers on offense and special teams. The Orediggers capitalized and kept the Rams at arm’s length during the second half, winning 42-24.
On Dec. 10, Mines hosted Super Region I champion Shepherd, as the Orediggers hoped to overcome last year's semifinal hurdle.
In possibly the biggest athletic competition in Golden’s history in terms of stakes and attendance, Mines found its rhythm in the second half and destroyed Shepherd 44-13.
After more than 130 years of football, the Orediggers finally punched their ticket to the National Championship.
The championship game
With thousands of Oredigger supporters packing the stadium in McKinney, Texas and thousands more watching around the world, the Mines football team kicked off Dec. 17 against defending champs Ferris State.
Unfortunately for the Orediggers, the Bulldogs were well-prepared to handle Division II's most explosive offense.
Throughout the first half, senior quarterback John Matocha and his receivers struggled to connect. They were stifled by sacks, dropped passes, deflections and suffocating defense.
Meanwhile, Ferris State kept scoring at the other end, racking up two touchdowns and two fields. Just before halftime, the Bulldogs had a pick-six to make it 27-0.
Mines seemed to find some offensive rhythm in the third quarter and tried to chip away at the deficit. The Orediggers got on the board thanks to a quick touchdown reception by running back Michael Zeman.
Wide receiver Josh Johnston had a 14-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, but by then, the deficit was too great and time too limited.
As the clock finally hit zero, Ferris State celebrated its 41-14 victory and second-straight national title.
Dec. 17 marked the final game for at least a dozen seniors, including Zeman, Johnston, center Matt Armendariz, and wide receiver Tristan Smith.
Amid the loss, though, there was a silver lining.
On Dec. 16, Matocha was named the 2022 Harlon Hill winner. The quarterback, who has another year of eligibility, thanked all the fans for their support and hoped to win the title next year for them.
Moore also believed this season's second-place finish will serve as the starting point for a 2023 National Championship run.
"We've inched a few steps further every year," Moore said of the program's first national title. "We came up short this year. But, we're excited for the future, and we fully expect to come out and win next year."
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