RAPID CITY, SD — After some last-minute, last-second disappointments and heartbreak this season, the South Dakota School of Mines football team had one coming.
That is, one coming in a thrilling victory.
Mines took advantage of a last-second missed field goal in regulation and a missed extra point in overtime, to close the season with a 35-34 win over Fort Lewis College Saturday on Dunham Field at O’Harra Stadium.
“The Football Gods owed us one, and we got it today,” Mines coach Zach Tinker said. “We played to the final whistle and we found a way to send these seniors off the way they earned it.”
The matchup going in wasn’t marquee, with Hardrockers 4-6 and the Skyhawks 1-8, and at times neither team played real inspiring football with turnovers and missed opportunities.
The game was tied at 20-20 at halftime and each team just scored once in the second half.
The Hardrockers had their chances late but stalled and gave the Skyhawks a golden opportunity with a fumble by Anthony Ullrich near midfield with less than a minute to play.
Fort Lewis did everything it needed to do to get in position to win the game, but Mines true freshman Adrian Eastman applied enough pressure to force Fort Lewis kicker Beau McCannon to miss a 36-yard field goal on the last play of regulation.
The Skyhawks got the ball first in overtime and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Erik Ornduff. But McCannon missed again on the extra point, giving Mines the chance for the win with a touchdown and extra point.
That’s exactly what they did. Senior quarterback Jake Sullivan (26-of-50, 293 yards and 4 TDs), who now has 75 touchdowns in his career, got one more TD on his final pass as a Hardrocker as he hit sophomore Collin Zur from 12 yards out on a low throw just inside the goal-line and pylon for the score.
Sophomore Enis Sefa calmly stepped up and nailed the PAT kick to send the Hardrockers out winners in 2018.
“If you would have told me that the season would come down to whether Jake Sullivan could get us into the end zone, I would feel pretty good about it,” Tinker said. “No one has any idea of what he went through this week to even be on the field today, one of the gutsiest things I have ever seen. It wasn’t his best game, but one that will go on the bust when they put him in the Hardrocker Hall of Fame.”
Sullivan, a local star from St.Thomas More, said he had no words for how the game and his college career ended.
Except he did.
“You finally see your hard work pay off and you see the hard work from the seniors come together, and from the younger guys; we had so many young guys step up tonight. Collin Zur for example, a sophomore, had some huge catches, the game-winning catch and he blocked a punt to set up a touchdown.
“And I can’t say enough about the senior class. (Center) Robert Schrock is the heart and soul of this team and Isaiah Manley is one of the best players to ever come through this school. And the coaching staff. They set us up for success today.
“God blessed us with that missed field goal by them and we took advantage of it. I just love this team.”
Although the Hardrockers were in position to win the game with a TD and PAT, they still had to get into the end zone. On third and five from the 25, Sullivan connected for seven yards with Manley, who will go down with one of the best seasons ever as a ‘Rocker receiver.
That set up the pass to Zur, whose blocked punt set up an earlier touchdown for Mines.
Zur, who finished with five catches for 89 yards on the day and 16 for his sophomore season, also said that words could not explain the whole ending.
But he did.
“I knew he was going to be rolling out to my right, and I knew the corner was inside of me, so I just broke for the sideline right at the end zone, and the rest is history,” Zur said.
Zur said the pass was a little low and outside, but not outside of his frame.
“It was a difficult catch, but not the most difficult catch that I have made,” he said.
What a way to go out, he said. Not for himself, but for the team.
“If you think about it, we lost a lot of close games. A majority of our losses were by under five-point deficits,” he said. “It feels amazing to pull it out. We also sent next year’s team out on a positive note, heading into spring getting ready for the upcoming off-season.”
Another STM graduate, senior defensive lineman Andrew Montoya, said going into overtime was a new experience for them.
“I think this was my first overtime game in my four years here,” Montoya said. “We had to really buckle down, refocus and make sure that everybody was doing their jobs. And I have to give props for the offense for not fondling once they scored that touchdown. Being able to force them to miss the extra point was critical, that was a great momentum shift.”
Sefa said that he just did what he had been doing all season. Working hard in practice showed in the end.
“One of the things we do in this program is trust in our finishing,” he said. “There was nothing special about the extra point. It was the last one, but we do what we do and we did what we do best. All of the Hardrocker team deserved this win, not just me.”
After a couple of meaningless possessions by both teams to open the game, the Hardrockers got on the board first on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sullivan to Joe Luebbers.
The Skyhawks tied the game when Ornduff connected on a 65-yard TD pass down the right sideline to Arealous Hughes. Fort Lewis took the lead on a 13-yard touchdown run by Brandon Lucero after Mines punter Grant Russell dropped the snap and was tackled for a 2-yard loss, giving the Skyhawks the ball on the Mines 13.
Mines, however, finally found some momentum with two straight scores, on a 1-yard TD run by Zach Hoopman (16 rushes, 57 yards) and a 6-yard TD pass from Sullivan to Manley.
The Skyhawks tied the game with just 29 seconds remaining until halftime on a 16-yard pass from Ornduff to Mason Hatton.
Neither team was able to do much offensively in the third until the Hardrockers got a special teams break when Zur got through the Fort Lewis line and blocked the punt, giving Mines the ball on the Fort Lewis 21-yard line.
Three plays later Sullivan found Manley again, this time from 18-yards out, to put the Hardrockers up 28-21 with 37 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The Skyhawks tied the game again on a 22-yard TD pass from Ornduff to Ta’jon Mondy-Smith when Mines defender Eastman tipped the pass in the end zone, right to Mondy-Smith. That drive was kept alive when Mines was called on a pass interference penalty on a fake 55-yard field goal attempt.
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