CSU-Pueblo beats Minnesota St 13-0 for D-II title
KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) Colorado State-Pueblo didn't have a football program seven years ago.
Now, there is none better in Division II.
Chris Bonner threw for 191 yards and a touchdown, Cameron McDondle ran for 113 yards and the ThunderWolves relied on some stingy defense to knock off previously unbeaten Minnesota State 13-0 on Saturday for their first national championship.
Paul Browning had five catches for 84 yards and the game's lone touchdown for Pueblo (14-1), and Greg O'Donnell bounced back from an early miss to connect on his next two field goals.
''To be able to come through and end it like this, it's beautiful,'' Browning said. ''Thank you to Pueblo for allowing us to have a football program. To do this, it's just a mind-blowing experience.''
The victory capped a remarkable rebuilding job by ThunderWolves coach John Wristen, who played quarterback for the school when it was known as Southern Colorado in the early 1980s.
The program was disbanded along with several others in cost-cutting moves in 1985, and Wristen was brought on board in 2007 to revive it. Pueblo won four games the following year and simply kept improving, going unbeaten in the regular season the three previous seasons.
Each of those years ended in playoff disappointment, though. But after losing its only game to Fort Lewis earlier this season, Pueblo made sure to finish things off this time.
''Our defense was outstanding. Our offense made the plays they needed to,'' Wristen said. ''I was convinced if we understood the process, played as hard as you can and play for each other - and not being perfect, but fixing your mistakes - we had a chance to be here.''
Ricky Lloyd and Nick Pieruccini shared quarterback duties for the Mavericks (14-1), though neither of them was particularly effective. Running back Connor Thomas, who had more than 1,300 yards rushing this season, was held to just 25 yards on 10 carries.
The result was the first shutout in the Division II title game since 1997.
''That was one of the best defenses we've seen,'' Lloyd said. ''We just couldn't get on a roll. We couldn't get any drives sustained and when you can't get drives sustained, it's tough to score.''
The Division II title game moved this year from its longtime home in Florence, Alabama to Sporting Park, the $200 million soccer-specific home of MLS club Sporting Kansas City - which looked just fine dressed as a football stadium for the first time.
As expected, two of the nation's best defenses took center stage early. Neither team crossed midfield until late in the first quarter, and the game was still scoreless midway through the second.
Both teams squandered chances, though. O'Donnell missed right on a 44-yard field-goal attempt, and Minnesota State's Alden Haffar had his 27-yard attempt blocked.
O'Donnell finally broke the deadlock with a 27-yard field goal late in the half.
Minnesota State, which blew out Concord 47-13 in the semifinals, proceeded to go three-and-out for the second time in the half. Pueblo took advantage of good field position and briskly marched 69 yards, taking a 10-0 lead on Bonner's 18-yard fade pass to Browning.
''Just saw a good mathcup out there with Paul. Any time I see that, I've been doing it all year, I'm going at him,'' Bonner said. ''Just a well-executed play.''
O'Donnell added a 24-yard field goal early in the second half to extend the ThunderWolves' lead, and the same defense that shined in 10-7 semifinal win over West Georgia came through again.
For Minnesota State, it was a bitter ending to a remarkable season.
Todd Hoffner returned as coach after a two-year hiatus caused by some messy legal trouble, and the Mavericks put together a perfect regular season. They then advanced to the Division II finals for the first time, beating perennial powerhouse Pittsburg State in overtime along the way.
On Saturday, they finally ran into the first team they couldn't beat.
''We didn't come into the game satisfied. We came in to compete. We came in to win,'' Hoffner said. ''You get 60 minutes. You get one chance to compete, and if you don't get it done, you have a result like you had today.''