CHADRON, Neb. — Another high-scoring shootout could take place at Elliott Field on Saturday, when the New Mexico Highlands Cowboys visit for the Chadron State College Eagles’ final home game of the season.
The Eagles are 5-2 and third in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings after slipping past Dixie State of Utah 30-18 last Saturday.
The Cowboys are 3-5 after they edged South Dakota Mines 53-52 after the Hardrockers had spilled Adams State 56-42 the previous Saturday. Adams State is the team that outscored the Eagles 65-62 on Oct. 6.
Highlands had won just four of 32 games the previous three seasons.
The Cowboys served notice they could be dangerous early in the season. They opened with a 45-31 win over Fort Lewis, then knocked off Adams State 65-37 in their second game.
That was followed by five consecutive losses. Dixie State won 28-23, Colorado Mines prevailed 43-14, Texas A&M-Kingsville won a non-conference tussle 33-30, Colorado State-Pueblo romped to a 48-3 decision and previously winless Black Hills State corralled the Cowboys 42-7.
But Highlands got untracked again last Saturday. The game with South Dakota Mines was knotted 28-28 at halftime and the Cowboys outscored the Hardrockers 25-24 in the second half.
The Cowboys’ victory came with 40 seconds remaining after they marched 72 yards in just 59 seconds for a touchdown and completed a conversion pass for two points.
Mines clicked on three passes for 51 yards to get within field goal range, but missed a 44-yarder with two seconds remaining.
Hardrockers’ quarterback Jake Sullivan completed 45 of 60 passes for 592 yards while Cowboys field general Danny Cameron was 23 of 46 for 366 yards. Highlands’ scatback Dione Alston, just 5-8, 157 pounds, rushed 26 times for 210 yards and four touchdowns.
Chadron State defensive coordinator Jeff Larson said Alston is probably the fastest player in the RMAC. He’s carried 141 times for 886 yards this fall. Cameron, who has thrown all but three of Highlands’ passes this season, is 116 of 235 for 1,559 yards and 15 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted seven times.
Larson noted that during most of the season, Highlands was “a run-first” team, but after gaining only 234 total net yards versus Black Hills State seemed to “spread the field more” against South Dakota Mines.
Chadron State head coach Jay Long said from what he’s seen on film, the Cowboys run the ball well, play good defense and have excellent special teams. He also noted they like to surprise the opponents by doing some unconventional things.
Punter Matt Rodriguez is averaging 40.7 yards, placekicker Israel Farfan has made eight of 10 field goal tries and 28 of 29 extra points and Devon Henderson has returned 21 kickoffs for a 27-yard average.
The defensive stat leader is another diminutive player, 5-7, 156-pound sophomore Malik Brown. He’s the team’s leading tackler with 68 stops and has intercepted five passes that he’s returned 128 yards.
Highlands also has some hefty players. Offensive linemen Daurice Lee and Tarina Tosi are listed at 338 and 354 pounds, respectively, and defensive lineman Tre Haynes is 6-4, 321. Linebacker Thomas Lanktree is 6-foot, 249.
Because of injuries, the Eagles had to rely on their depth more than usual on Saturday against Dixie State. Senior offensive right guard Adam Fuselier was not in uniform because of a knee problem and left guard Austin Rapp missed most of the last three quarters because of what was described as a “shoulder stinger.”
Cornerback DeAndre Barthwell also left the game early because of a shoulder injury, but his replacement, freshman Devon Johnson, made nine unassisted and two assisted tackles.
Inside receiver and kick return standout Jackson Dickerson also didn’t play late in the game after being hit hard after catching a pass.
Since this is the Eagles final home game, the 13 seniors will be recognized prior to kickoff. They are Kevin Coy, Merritt Crabtree, Adam Fuselier, Jake Geil, Jake Henderson, Zech James, Keenan Johnson, Zack Kozlik, Matt Mazas, Matt Reader, Travis Romsa, TD Stein and Kyle Temple.