ST. GEORGE – Dixie State has mastered many things en route to respectability in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, but making that huge play late in the game when everything’s on the line, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.
The Red Storm moved the ball easily up and down the field Saturday night, but a late-game fourth down conversion try resulted in a sack and, ultimately, a 46-34 loss at home to Western Oregon.
Within 40-34 with under six minutes to play, DSU had moved the ball to the Wolves 8-yard line. But back to back sacks on third and fourth down turned the ball over to WOU and the Wolves put the game away moments later with a clinching touchdown.
“It’s frustrating because we had our chances,” said wide receiver Mitch Frei. “We’ve been competitive in every game. It just seems like we shoot ourselves in the foot at the worst possible time.”
A shootout was expected when the two top passing and scoring teams in the GNAC met Saturday night at Hansen Stadium. Both quarterbacks threw for more than 400 yards and the offenses combined for more than 1,100 yards. But Dixie came out on the short end of the match-up for the second straight time vs. WOU, falling by 12 points.
“We got down early, with a couple of mistakes and then some failed executions,” said tight end Joe Don Duncan, who had a game-high 14 catches for 170 yards. “It is hard to dig out of those holes. We need to come out stronger.”
Indeed, Dixie State spent the entire game playing catch-up. The Storm trailed 14-3 early in the game and the WOU lead ballooned to 40-20 midway through the third quarter. A pair of Griff Robles-to-Mitch Frei TD strikes cut it to 40-34, but that’s as close as it would get.
“We had breakdowns in every part of the game — offense, defense and special teams,” said Dixie State head coach Scott Brumfeld. “We will turn it around. We will get back on track.”
The Wolves got it going early. After a three and out by DSU, Western Oregon came out content with driving down the field 5 to 15 yards at a time on short passes by junior QB Ryan Bergman. He connected with Michael Reeve with a 10-yard pass in the flats for a touchdown and the Wolves were first on the board 7-0 less than four minutes into the game.
The teams traded punts before Dixie drove the ball 68 yards on 13 plays, culminating in a 22-yard field goal by kicker Dillon Bishoff to end the first quarter.
After the Dixie defense held, Robles had the first turnover of the game with an interception by A.J. Hull. Robles rolled left, turned and threw across the field to his right.
“I threw off my back foot and the ball did not get enough zip on it,” said Robles.
Hull returned the interception 54 yards for the Wolves second score of the game, making it 14-3 with 12:09 to go before halftime.
The Red Storm started their next possession on their 26-yard line. The drive stalled, but the punt was fumbled by WOU’s Lucas Gonsalves, giving Dixie excellent field possession at the Wolves 20-yard line. With 10 minutes left in the half, Robles rolled right and hit Randon Willard with a 20-yard touchdown across the middle, cutting it to 14-10.
On the next play from scrimmage, Bergman connected with Tyrell Williams for a 74-yard pass. After a failed PAT, the Wolves led by 10, 20-10, with still 9:44 to go until halftime.
Dixie was able to put together another long drive, going 79 yards on 15 plays. But it was all for naught as Joe Don Duncan fumbled the football at the Wolves 1-yard line. Dixie would get redemption, however, as Bergman was intercepted by Zac Christian two plays later. Six plays later, Robles scampered left 11 yards just past the end zone pylon to pull Dixie to within 20-17 with 2:22 to go in the half.
The Wolves returned the kickoff to the Dixie 36-yard line and had a short field to navigate while running the two-minute drill. Bergman found wide receiver James DePew from nine yards out to close out the scoring in the first half, 27-17.
On the Wolves first play from scrimmage the second half, Bergman found Williams behind the Red Storm secondary. The speedy junior wideout sprinted in for a 67-yard touchdown to put the Wolves in front, 34-17.
Dixie State drove the ball 67 yards on its next possession, but had to settle for another Bishoff field goal, making it 34-20 with with 11:35 left in the third quarter. On Dixie’s next possession, Robles sailed a pass high and was intercepted by Roger Garrett at the Dixie 40-yard line. Five plays later the Wolves capitalized, taking a three-touchdown lead on a DeVauntee Hoffman run from 13-yards out. WOU failed to convert the PAT, but led 40-20 with eight minutes to go in the third.
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DSU would pull to within six points on the two Robles-Frei connections. The first came on an acrobatic leaping grab from 22 yards out to pull the Red Storm to 40-27. The second came at the beginning of the fourth quarter from 24 yards out, with Frei catching the ball at the 10 and juking away from a would-be tackler. The Red Storm had cut it to 40-34 with 13:24 left in the game.
Western Oregon responded with a 59-yard drive, but the DSU special teams blocked a field goal attempt and the Red Storm took over at their own 28. Robles drove Dixie State in to the WOU red zone. On both third and fourth downs, Robles had little time to locate a receiver, taking 6-yard sacks on each play.
The Wolves took over on downs at their 20-yard line with 5:37 left in the game and proceeded to march 80 yards in 11 plays. Hoffman ran it in from 10 yards out for the clinching score with 2:07 left in the game.
With the Red Storm out of timeouts, any chance for a comeback in the last two minutes was squashed when the Wolves forced a fumble and ran out the clock.
Bergman finished with 407 yards and four touchdowns passing on 24 of 39 attempts. Williams finished with five receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns. For Dixie State, Robles completed 38 of 56 passes for 422 yards and three TDs. Frei finished with seven receptions for 103 yards.
Defensively, Jake Duncan and Zac Christian led Dixie with six tackles apiece. Christian also had two interceptions and is one of the conference leaders with five INTs on the season.
The victory propels Western Oregon to 4-3 overall and 3-3 in the GNAC. The Wolves return home to face Simon Fraser next week. The loss drops Dixie State to 2-5 and 2-4. The Storm will host Humboldt State next week at Hansen Stadium, 6 p.m.
Stats via DSU Athletics: WOU 46, DSU 34
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