Colorado Mines will get its share. Chad Friehauf was certain of that much late Saturday afternoon, even as he wished for a way to slow the pressure of Ferris State’s defensive line.
“You’re not going to go from 0-100 overnight,” Friehauf, the former Mines quarterback and the program’s first winner of Division II’s Heisman, the Harlon Hill Trophy, told me Saturday after his Orediggers fell to Ferris’ Bulldogs, 41-14, in the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA DII national championship game.
“Each one of those (football) classes kind of brought their own thing to the program. And coach (Brandon) Moore was able to build off of last year’s trip to the Final Four this year in reaching the national championship. Hopefully, next year, they can take it one step further and win a national title. Coach Moore is an outstanding coach. So it’s a good time to be an Oredigger, for sure.”
Every 4 to 5 years, one heckuva bunch of engineers leaves this football program better than they found it. Friehauf was one of the first stars of The Bob Stitt Revolution, some 20 years ago. He reminded me that not every stage of the climb has been linear.
He also noted that for every step back, and Saturday’s scoreboard stung like salty sweat in an open wound, another group eventually got up, dusted things off, and kept pushing. Kept climbing. Mines will be back.
“The last two seasons, reaching the Final Four (in 2021), obviously that was something that had never been done before,” said Friehauf, who co-founded the company ReadyList Sports, which produces an interactive football playbook and learning tool, along with former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer. “People should be proud of where the program’s been.”
And prouder still, ex-Orediggers quarterback Justin Dvorak added, of where it’s going.
“This season did raise the bar,” Dvorak, Mines’ 2016 Harlon Hill winner, texted me from the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, where he tried to catch as much of the game as Mother Nature and his rig would allow from 160 miles off the Louisiana shoreline.
“The guys were one win away from being national champs and had a Harlon Hill winner (in QB John Matocha). This was after a coaching change and an 0-2 start, which would be obstacles for any team. But Mines never flinched.”
Which is what made all that wobbling early on against the Bulldogs so confounding, in hindsight. This was the Bulldogs’ third trip to McKinney ISD Stadium for a Division II championship in five years, and Ferris looked more relaxed from the jump. They also looked a lot bigger. And faster.
Mines has some dudes. Ferris has DUDES, all caps. Bulldogs quarterback Mylik Mitchell (14 completions on 18 attempts) is a Kent State transfer who threw his first collegiate pass all the way back in September 2016 … at Penn State. Wideout Brady Rose (87 yards receiving and rushing, 48 yards passing) was MLive.com’s Michigan Player of the Year in 2020.
You can coach a heck of an engineer how to split the ‘A’ gap, but you can’t coach height. Ferris brought a roster with 33 guys listed at 6-foot-4 or taller. Mines came to the party with 20. The Bulldogs featured 34 dudes who weighed 275 yards or more. The Diggers sported 20.
That size/speed gap put Mines on the back foot from the start. Ferris marched 79 yards on just seven plays on its first offensive drive for a 6-0 lead, the first time the Orediggers hadn’t scored first in a game since Oct. 8 against Colorado Mesa.
“Ferris State is the defending national champion,” Dvorak said, “so you have to bring your ‘A’ game when you play a team like that.”
Alas, that ‘A’ game came too late. The Nerd Herd hung in there, trailing 13-0 with two minutes to go until halftime when the final minute of the second quarter turned an uphill climb into a friendly jog up Mount Princeton.
With 32 seconds left in the second quarter, Ferris’ CJ Jefferson took a pitch 19 yards for a score to push the lead to 19-0 before the extra point. On the opening play from scrimmage on the ensuing Mines drive, Matocha’s pass was intercepted at his own 31 by the Bulldogs’ Sidney McCloud, who zipped the other way for a pick-6 and a four-score lead that pretty well iced it with nine seconds before the break.
“I think, probably, the best team won,” Friehauf observed. “I don’t think the score was indicative of the level of play — I don’t think they were that much better than Mines. It was one of those things where if you get a block here, or a completion there …”
And even if Ferris used a stiff arm to keep Mines away at arm’s length, the Orediggers never stopped swinging. Matocha even landed a few blows late, including a 14-yard touchdown heave to Josh Johnston in the fourth quarter that cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 34-13.
“I’m surprised at how many people recognize the School of Mines and talk about it as a ‘football school,’ which is a complete 180 to when I was there,” Friehauf said. “It was a school for engineers … whenever I saw someone wearing a Mines t-shirt, they didn’t even know Mines had a football team. Now they know.”