ST. GEORGE – Led by junior safety Colton Olson, Dixie State showed off a stout defense Thursday night in the Trailblazers’ season-opening 21-14 win over New Mexico Highlands University at Legend Solar Stadium.
With two minutes left on the clock and the visiting Cowboys of New Mexico Highlands inside the Dixie State red zone, Olson and his defensive mates needed to step up. The Dixie State defense had played well all game, but the Blazers needed to keep NMHU out of the end zone to preserve a 21-14 lead.
After a holding penalty on the offense, Olson stepped up and made three straight plays. First he dove to make a deflection on a pass headed to the end zone. On the next play, he busted through a block to tackle Cowboy ball carrier Jairan Manning at the 18-yard line.
On third down, Olson broke up the receiver again to force a fourth-and-11. The final pass fell incomplete on an overthrow, allowing the Dixie State offense to down the ball and run out the clock.
“He was all over the field tonight,” said Dixie State head coach Shay McClure. “I coach the linebackers. On the play where he came and broke up the run I saw him out of the corner of my eye and he shot through out of nowhere to make that hit.”
The Trailblazer defense stifled the NMHU offense most of the night. At halftime the vaunted Cowboy rushing attack had a total of nine yards on 13 carries. The Cowboys had only converted one for eight on third-down conversions.
“That is one of our goals this year,” said Olson. “We want to limit their success on third down.” For the game, the Cowboys converted only four times out of 15 tries on third down.
The Cowboys were able to stay in the game however by winning the turnover battle 4-0. Twice the Dixie State offense had the ball within two yards of the NMHU end zone but failed to score.
“At halftime, I felt we should have had a two to three touchdown advantage,” said McClure. “We told our guys we will not win too many games when we lose the turnover battle. Good teams put their opponents away early. We had the opportunity to do that tonight and did not get it done.”
The play of the game on offense came with under two minutes to go in the third quarter and the score tied at 14-14.
After a three-and-out by the NMHU offense, the Trailblazers took over at their own 39-yard line. DSU quarterback Tyson Blackner hit a sprinting Sie-J Lauago with a backfield pass. Luago took two steps, then pulled up and completed the double-pass play by hitting a wide open Dejuan Dantzler. The 61-yard score completed a 10-second drive and gave DSU a 21-14 advantage with the third quarter coming to an end.
“We ran the play in practice,” said Lauago. “But in practice there was always a defender with him. I was just praying that I would throw a good pass.”
“It is really a designed trick play,” said McClure. “Most teams will cover that receiver when it goes to the right. But Luago is left-handed. So the defender left Dantzler to come after Luago. It worked to perfection.”
The Trailblazers started the game well. On their second play from scrimmage, Blackner found running back Orlando Wallace with a 66-yard strike for a touchdown. With less than two minutes gone off the Legend Solar scoreboard, the lead was 7-0.
The Trailblazers knocked on the door at the start of the second quarter. Blackner drove the team 84 yards in 14 plays, only to come up short on a fourth-and-goal at the Cowboy 1-yard line when the NMHU defense stuffed DSU running back Derrick Brown.
NMHU finally sustained a drive at the end of the first half. The Cowboys drove 71 yards in nine plays. They converted a fourth-and-goal at the DSU 1-yard line with a leaping dive from Davonte Lynch. NMHU went for two, but the receiver was tackled before reaching the end zone. Dixie State took a 7-6 lead into the locker room.
NMHU got a good kickoff return to start the third. The Cowboys took advantage of the field position at their 47-yard line. They gained 53 yards in 12 plays, culminating in a fade pass from Cody Keith to Ramone Atkins for a 3-yard touchdown play. They converted the two-point conversion on a pick play that left Vincent Venegas wide open in the end zone for the 14-7 lead with 9:07 remaining in the third.
On the Trailblazers next possession, Blackner drove the offense 70 yards. Lauago got the bulk of the yardage, gaining 48 yards on five carries. Blackner optioned the ball to Wallace for the touchdown. With the PAT, the score was tied at 14-14 with 5:26 remaining in the third.
After the halfback TD pass by Lauago gave Dixie State the lead, neither team would score again.
DSU did have another scoring chance in the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Justin Martin returned a NMHU punt 37 yards to the NMHU 17-yard line. Four plays later, on a first-and-goal from the 2, Dixie State running back Clifford Simms dove for the end zone. But NMHU linebacker Blue Thomas met Simms in the hole and jarred the ball loose. Thomas also recovered the fumble and with 6:43 left on the clock, the Cowboys still had a chance.
Dixie State outgained the Cowboys 419-275. Individually, Blackner completed 12 of 22 passes for 158 yards. When asked about his protection, Blackner gave credit where it was due. “Was I even touched tonight?” said the smiling quarterback. “I can’t remember being touched. I got plenty of time in the pocket and they were also excellent in the run game.”
Simms gained 102 yards on 16 carries. He did fumble the ball twice. “Simms has not had any issues fumbling during camp,” said McClure. “Something we need to work on. Overall he played well.”
Lauago had 131 all-purpose yards. Dantzler led DSU with 106 yards receiving. Defensively, Olson and linebacker Peter Brown led the team with eight tackles apiece. Darius Matthews and Keanu Foki both recorded sacks.
The attendance recorded was just under 3,700 with a majority being comprised of students.
“The crowd was big tonight,” said McClure. “And they stayed the entire game. I remember being on the other side and noticing the stands would empty as the game progressed. Our defense fed off the energy that was there tonight. Especially during the final stand.”
The Trailblazers get an extra long break before playing the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology on Saturday, Sept. 10. Game time is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Stats: DSU 21, NMHU 14
Note: Dixie State unveiled its new mascot, Brooks the Bison, at the game tonight. The mascot nearly completes the rebranding of the University from the unpopular Red Storm to the new Trailblazer identity.
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