PUEBLO, Colo. – The No. 11 West Texas A&M football team dropped its 2014 season-opener 35-6 at No. 4 Colorado State-Pueblo Thursday evening. WT was led defensively by 16 total tackles from redshirt freshman Carter James.
The Buffs struggled offensively as they totaled 302 yards of offense, including 94 rushing yards and 208 passing yards. WT junior quarterback Preston Rabb went 25 of 49 passing in his debut behind center. Northwestern senior transfer Venric Mark tallied 58 yards on the ground, while senior Anthony Johnson had nine catches for 61 yards and junior Jarrian Rhone had five catches for 72 yards. Three lost fumbles also proved costly.
CSUP, who returned a senior-laden team from last year, tallied 163 yards on the ground to go along with 277 yards passing for 440 total yards. Senior quarterback Chris Bonner went 16 of 31 for 277 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, while Cameron McDondle ran the ball for 83 yards and J.B. Matthews had 53 yards on the ground with a score. Senior Paul Browning had four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown.
Minus a few missed tackles and a couple of big pass plays, defensively the Buffs were all over the field as James had 10 solo stops with his 16 total tackles, including two tackles for loss. Sophomore Patric Youngman tallied 10 total tackles with six solo stops. WT had 10 tackles for loss in the game for 22 yards. Senior Torian Oakley had five tackles with an interception.
Breaking in a new punter and field goal kicker, the Buffs looked much improved in both areas as junior Elliot Moore had 11 punts for a 40.6 average with three inside the 20 and one touchback. Sophomore kicker Connor Hollabaugh converted two field goals for the Buffs’ six points.
The Buffs went three-and-out on their opening drive of the season setting the Thunderwolves up on their own 20. A first down pass from Bonner got things started, but the Buff run “D” stymied CSUP on the next two snaps for a pair of tackles for loss from James and junior Jacob Laguna and Oakley combined for the other setting up a third and long. Bonner then completed a long strike for a touchdown to Paul Browning for 66 yards and a 7-0 lead with 13:44 left in the first quarter.
The teams exchanged punts on the next two possessions, but the Buffs’ best drive of the half came following a CSUP punt beginning at the 30. A roughing the passer penalty gave WT its first, first down of the game on a third and five. Mark bounced outside and made some shifty moves for 32 yards to the CSUP 11. Mark rushed to the three, but a delay of game penalty on fourth and two pushed the Buffs back. Hollabaugh converted the 25-yard field goal for a 7-3 score with 7:21 left in the first quarter.
Late in the quarter, CSUP took over at its 41 and Bonner tossed his second touchdown pass of the game to Daniel Wise for 47-yards and a 14-3 score.
CSUP extended the lead to 21-3 on a drive early in the second quarter as Cameron McDondle scampered 28 yards for a first down at the WT 41. Wise caught another long pass from Bonner for 41 yards to the WT one yard line. Once again the Buff “D” stepped up and forced a fourth down. ON fourth and goal, McDondle caught Bonner’s third touchdown of the half out of the backfield for a 21-3 lead.
With 1:26 left in the half, Rabb and the Buffalo offense had its best drive through the air to that point as Rabb completed three nice passes with two to junior Jarrian Rhone and one to senior Anthony Johnson. Rabb then completed a 12-yard pass to redshirt freshman Jordan Jones for 12 yards to the CSUP 34. Rabb was sacked and fumbled on the CSUP 35 ending the threat with 26 second left in the half.
For the half, WT was led by 43 yards on the ground on six carries from Mark. Rabb was 13 of 26 for 111 yards. Junior punter Elliot Moore had seven punts in the half for a 41.7 average. Rhone had four catches for 52 yards. WT had 177 total yards in the half.
Bonner was 10 of 17 for 214 yards and three touchdowns for the Thunderwolves, while McDondle had 72 yards on 17 carries. Browning had three catches for 93 yards and a score.
After a three-and-out to begin the second half for the Thunderwolves, the Buffs got the ball back at their own nine. A fumble by Rabb set CSUP up as Bonner tossed his fourth touchdown of the night for a 28-3 lead.
On the ensuing WT possession, the Buffs started driving with a pair of runs to begin the drive from senior Boise State transfer Derrick Thomas. On a fourth and three, junior Geremy Alridge-Mitchell scampered for five yards and a first down at the CSUP 33.
Alridge-Mitchell rushed the ball once again and appeared down with a whistle as the ball came out after he was down. The referees convened and decided that it was a fumble with a CSUP recovery ending a good drive.
Oakley came up with the pick later in the quarter and the defense came up big once again as senior Syracuse transfer Markus Pierce-Brewster blocked a Greg O’Donnell kick keeping the score at 28-3.
The Buffs turned the blocked kick into points at the other end early in the fourth with the second field goal from Hollabaugh for a 28-6 score.
Late in the game, Matthews scored from 10 yards out for the final margin of 35-6.
It was the first game since a 41-3 loss against Pittsburg State in the NCAA playoffs on Nov. 19, 2005, that WT failed to score a touchdown in a game.
WT returns home for the 2014 home-opener Sat., Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Kimbrough Memorial Stadium against Lone Star Conference rival Tarleton State.