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The Mines football team is taking home the NCAA Division II Runner-Up trophy after losing 41-14 to Ferris State in the Dec. 17 title game.
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While they were hoping to strike gold, the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers will have to settle for silver.
The Mines football team is taking home the NCAA Division II Runner-Up trophy after losing 41-14 to Ferris State in the Dec. 17 title game. The Orediggers, who finish the season 13-3, were hoping to win the program’s first national title.
Instead, the 14-1 Bulldogs won their second-straight title, holding the trophy aloft in the McKinney, Texas stadium.
"My boys — my team — never quit, never gave up," Mines coach Brandon Moore said after the game. "Those guys, they're warriors. And I appreciate every single last one of them for what they do every day, for the sacrifices they make."
Starting off on the wrong foot
Right out of the gate, the Bulldogs had the Orediggers off-kilter, scoring a touchdown early and then containing the most explosive offense in Division II.
Mines senior quarterback John Matocha and his receivers struggled to connect. They were stifled by sacks, dropped passes, deflections and suffocating defense.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Ferris State racked up two field goals and another touchdown. Just before halftime, the Bulldogs had a pick-six to make it 27-0.
At halftime, the Orediggers only had seven rushing yards, 14 passing yards and two first downs.
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 reception by senior running back Michael Zeman, but the Bulldogs responded with a touchdown of their own.
In the fourth quarter, Matocha connected with senior wide receiver Josh Johnston for a 14-yard touchdown pass. However, time was not on Mines’ side, and the Bulldogs seemed content to eat up the clock while driving for another touchdown.
As the clock finally hit zero, Ferris State celebrated its 41-14 victory and second-straight national title.
Overall, the Bulldogs sacked Matocha six times and limited him to 208 total yards and two touchdowns.
"Obviously, Ferris is a phenomenal team and a phenomenal defense with some great players," Matocha said. "But, offensively, I think that we just needed to execute a little bit better. I think there were opportunities for us to take advantage of some mistakes, and play our game."
The road to 2023
While it wasn’t the finish the Orediggers had hoped for, the weekend offered some smaller victories.
Matocha won the 2022 Harlon Hill Award — the Division II equivalent of the Heisman Trophy — and Zeman added to his career touchdown record during his last game as an Oredigger.
Mines also enjoyed time in the national spotlight leading up to and during the game, which was televised on ESPNU.
Dozens of Mines students were in attendance thanks to a $100,000 donation by the Denver Broncos’ ownership group, and hundreds of alumni and other fans made the trip to McKinney to cheer on the team. Stadium officials estimated that most of the 6,300 attendees were Oredigger fans.
"I want to thank our fans, our alum, and our students for coming all the way down here and supporting us," Moore said. "We had a great showing, and it was a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous environment that they provided us."
The fans have been incredibly supportive throughout the postseason, Matocha added, saying that's a big reason why the team made it to the title game. The quarterback, who has another year of eligibility left, hoped to return next year and "win it all for them and make them proud."
Just as the Orediggers built on 2021's successes this year and cleared the semifinal hurdle to make it to the title game, Moore believed they will build on this year's historic season and finally take home the gold in 2023.
"We've inched a few steps further every year," he continued. "We came up short this year. But, we're excited for the future, and we fully expect to come out and win next year."
One last ride
A few days before the game, 16 Orediggers celebrated graduation with their teammates and coaches in McKinney. Dec. 17 marked the final game for the seniors who've "poured so much into the program and been so influential to our underclassmen," Moore said.
While it was hard to see them end their careers with a loss, Moore wanted them to know that they'll always be a part of the Mines football family.
Wide receiver Tristan Smith, who played his final game as an Oredigger Dec. 17, was grateful for all of his experiences and relationships at Mines, both on and off the field.
He believed the football program was heading in the right direction, saying, "I'm so proud of this team, and so grateful for the support we have at Colorado School of Mines. ... I know they'll be back (at the championship)."
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