VALDOSTA, Ga. – Colorado School of Mines’ historic run through the NCAA Division II playoffs came to an end with a 34-31 loss to Valdosta State on Saturday afternoon.
Valdosta State went ahead 34-17 on a 38-yard touchdown scamper by junior quarterback Ivory Durham with 3:44 left in the third quarter, but the Orediggers refused to go away.
With a pair of late fourth-quarter touchdowns, Mines (12-2) drew within three points with less than a minute left. But kicker Jacob Click’s onside kick was recovered by the Blazers (12-1), and the Orediggers’ first-ever appearance in the D-II semifinals ended with a loss.
“We were there at the end and that’s what we all understand at Colorado Mines – we are an elite team that deserves to be in the Final Four and we’re going to be here next year,” Mines head coach Gregg Brandon said.
Needing points in a hurry late in the fourth quarter, Mines got a 17-yard touchdown pass from John Matocha to Max McLeod with 3:37 remaining.
On the ensuing VSU drive, Mines allowed only a yard on three plays to force a punt.
With 1:40 to go, Mines marched 72 yards in eight plays as Matocha found Josh Johnston on a 6-yard dart to pull within 34-31 with 34 seconds left. Click executed the onside kick, but the ball was recovered by VSU with 30 seconds left.
“The goal was to get to McKinney (and the championship game),” Brandon said, “and we fell a game short and we’re going to shoot for it next year.”
The Orediggers were unable to corral Durham, who spearheaded the Blazers’ offense. Durham accounted for 373 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns.
“It was just a little bit too much of No. 9 today,” Brandon said of Durham. “You take him out and it’s a completely different game, but he’s a great player. We knew that going in and nobody has stopped him all year and we didn’t either.”
Mines finished with 448 total yards.
Matocha threw for 260 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The junior also rushed for 87 yards with two first-half touchdowns.
Harlon Hill Trophy finalist Michael Zeman had 28 carries for 105 yards in the game.
After holding the Blazers to a field goal on their first drive of the second half that put the score at 27-17, the Orediggers got deep into VSU territory on a 15-yard pass from Matocha to Tristan Smith down to the VSU 12-yard line.
On the next play, Matocha found running room for 11 yards down to the 1 but got the ball stripped away by VSU’s Aleem Coley. The ball caromed out of the back of the end zone for a touchback – leaving Mines empty-handed and killing its momentum.
“It comes back to being able to run the ball and we thought we could block them and we did,” Brandon said. “We just squandered the opportunities today. We couldn’t finish in the red zone a couple of times. The turnover down there for the touchback, that hurt us.”
Valdosta State finished with 538 yards of total offense.
The Orediggers were hit with scoring plays of 60, 37, 20 and 38 yards on Saturday.
“We gave up a few explosives that determined the game,” Mines senior defensive back Mason Pierce said. “Coach Brandon always says there’s four or five plays that determine the outcome of the game and that’s what we saw today.”
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