No. 20 ThunderWolves set for NCAA Playoffs at No. 1 Minnesota State

No. 20 ThunderWolves set for NCAA Playoffs at No. 1 Minnesota State

PUEBLO, Colo. (November 16, 2017) - The No. 20 overall and No. 7 seed Colorado State University-Pueblo football team travels to No. 1 overall and No. 2 seed Minnesota State University, Mankato Mavericks Saturday, Nov. 18 for the first round of the NCAA Division II Football Playoffs. Game time at Blakeslee Stadium is set for 11 a.m. MST.

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CSU-PUEBLO GAME NOTES (9-2, 9-1 RMAC)
MINNESOTA STATE GAME NOTES (11-0, 11-0 NSIC)

THE GAME 

• The ThunderWolves went 9-2 overall and 9-1 in RMAC play to earn a share of their sixth RMAC Championship in the last seven years. 

• The Pack are making their fifth appearance in the NCAA Division II Playoffs (2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014). 

• The ThunderWolves are the No. 20 team in the AFCA top 25 poll and are playing No. 1 Minnesota State. 

• The Pack are 2-0 against nationally ranked opponents this season and since 2011 are 6-1 against the nation's top 10.

• This season, the ThunderWolves have played six road games in six different states (Texas, South Dakota, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nebraska) and traveled roughly 5,000 miles roundtrip. 

• Saturday's contest is a rematch of the 2014 NCAA Division II National Championship  in Kansas City, Kansas where the ThunderWovles won 13-0.  

• The meeting is only one in the series between the two teams. There are eight Pack players on this season's roster that were on the active roster for that game in 2014 and three that played.

SCOUTING THE PACK 

• The ThunderWolves are coming off a 28-6 road victory at Chadron State. 

• The Pack totaled three turnovers, including two interceptions to move the season total to 21, which finished the regular season fourth in NCAA Division II. CSU-Pueblo ranks 11th nationally in turnovers gained (27). 

• The Pack defense allowed 226 yards (56 rushing) and rank 10th nationally in total defense (273.5 ypg). With 14.3 points allowed per contest, the ThunderWolves are 10th in NCAA Division II. Both led the league.

• The defense has allowed just 10 offensive points in the last four games.

• RB Marché Dennard rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns in the win. His 17 rushing TD's this season ranks 10th nationally and with 108 points scored, he ranks 11th in DII. The junior's 7.1 yards per carry is 12th in Division II.

• The Pack are 24th nationally (2nd RMAC) in scoring offense with 37.6 points per game.

• ILB Brandon Payer is 4th in the RMAC in total tackles with 99. His 66 solo efforts is 2nd in the league and ranks 21st in Division II. He led the RMAC in tackles for loss with 14 (-50 yards).

• The ThunderWolves rank 23rd nationally in red zone offense (88.0%). The team is 44-of-50 this season with 36 touchdowns.

• The defense ranks 3rd nationally in the red zone, as they allow the opponent to score only 57.7 percent of the time.

• The defense hasn't allowed a fourth quarter score in the last five games and just 10 in the last nine games (all against ASU Oct. 7).

• The Pack have two touchdowns on special teams (blocked punt and punt return) this season.

• R-Fr. K Mitchell Carter is 54-for-55 on EXPT and 10-of-12 on FGs in 2017. He ranks 11th nationally in field goal percentage (83.3%), which was 1st in the RMAC.   

SCOUTING MINNESOTA STATE

• The Mavericks went a perfect 11-0 in the regular season to finish as one of the eight teams in Division II to go perfect.

• MSU ranks 10th nationally in scoring offense with 42 points per game, while the defense sits 6th nationally after allowing just 13.6 points per contest. 

• The team has racked up 481.5 yards of offense this season to sit 13th nationally, while the defense sits 11th in Division II after giving up 277.1 yards per contest. 

• Minnesota State ranks 3rd nationally in rushing offense (291.7 ypg) and 4th in rushing defense (71.4 ypg). 

• The Mavericks have thrown just five interceptions this season and totaled 14 giveaways. The team has collected 22 turnovers (12 interceptions). 

• QB R Schlichte ranks top 25 nationally in passing efficiency (23rd, 153.3) and passing yards per completion (25th , 13.7). He owns 21 passing touchdowns this season.

• His top target is Shane Zylstra with 14 receiving scores to sit 5th nationally.

• RB Nate Gunn reached 1,000 yards (1,115) in eight games before suffering an injury. Justin Taormina has picked up the slack with 976 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

• S Jerry Nash III lead the team with 58 tackles, while LB Michael Palme (54) and CB Larry Moore (50) are second and third. 

• Kicker Casey Bednarski ranks 1st nationally in field goal percentage (94.7). He is 18-for-19 on field goal attempts. 

THE POLLS 

• CSU-Pueblo entered the 2017 ranked No. 12 in both the AFCA and D2Football.com polls. The Pack are No. 20 in the AFCA this week and is No. 16 in the D2Football.com poll.

• The Pack ranked in the AFCA top 25 for 66 consecutive polls ranging from Sept. 5, 2011 (21st) to Sept. 5, 2016 (19th).

• The ThunderWolves ranked in the top 10 nationally for a NCAA Division II-best 37 straight weeks from Oct. 17, 2011 (eighth) to Oct. 6, 2014 (second).

TEAM NOTES

• CSU-Pueblo owns a 17-6 (12-4 at home) record versus ranked opponents (Division II) since 2011. That includes a 6-1 record against the nation's top 10. The Pack had won 10 straight against nationally-ranked opponents (6-0 in 2014 and 4-1 in 2015) before the playoff loss to Grand Valley State. Ranking history since 2011 page 4

• Since 2008, CSU-Pueblo is undefeated when scoring 35 or more points (51-0) and when allowing 10 points or less (39-0).

• Since 2008, the ThunderWolves are 51-11 (.823) at the ThunderBowl.

• CSU-Pueblo is winning the first half 253-87, specifically scoring 160 points in the second quarter. 

• The defense has given up just 70 points in the second half (23 in the fourth quarter).

• The Pack have totaled 12 75-yard or more scoring drives. The longest drive was a 15-play, 96-yard drive to the end zone at South Dakota Mines. It ate up 7:18 of the clock, which is the most time a scoring drive has taken this season. 

• CSU-Pueblo has recorded four drives under 20 seconds this season. Two came at New Mexico Highlands (Sept. 23) on a one-play 30 yard run by Austin Micci that took seven seconds and a 19 second, one-play run 69 yard run by Marché Dennard. The other two came against Black Hills State (Oct. 21). The first was a two-play 21 yard drive that ran 11 seconds off the clock, then a two-play, 15-yard drive that ticked eight seconds off. 

• The ThunderWolves have a 73-8 record since 2008 when scoring first (8-1 this season).

• The Pack scored in all three areas of the game against Adams State for the first time since Sept. 12, 2015 at West Texas A&M. The Pack totaled six offensive scores, posted a 99-yard pick six by Darius Williams and got two on special teams, a 35-yard punt block for a score and a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown.

CSU-PUEBLO POSITION NOTABLES

OFFENSE

• Junior RB Marché Dennard is the 11th player in program history to reach the 1,000 yard milestone in a season. He leads the team with 1,026 rushing yards on 145 attempts for a 7.1 yards per carry average that ranks 12th in NCAA Division II. He owns 17 rushing touchdowns to rank 10th nationally, while he also ranks 10th in total touchdowns (18, 1 rec TD) and 17th in scoring. 

• RB Austin Micci has seven rushing touchdowns and has found the end zone eight times this season (one receiving). The sophomore back owns 671 rushing yards this season on a 132 carries.

• The Pack were 4th in the RMAC in rushing offense with 191.5 yards per game. The 405 rushing yards against New Mexico Highlands was the third most in program history. The Pack rushed for 435 yards on 50 attempts against Western New Mexico, Oct. 31, 2009 and 481 against Westminster in 1977.

• Scoring 37.6 points per game they finished 2nd in the RMAC and are 24th in NCAA Division II.

• As a team, the ThunderWolves ranked 1st in the RMAC with a 60.9 completion percentage.

• Senior QB Rex Dausin threw for 318 yards in the win against No. 8 Colorado Mesa. It was the first 300 yard game by a Pack QB since Chris Bonner Oct. 18, 2014. He is 2nd in the RMAC in completion percentage (58.6%).

• Senior WR Osha Washington and sophomore WR Ammon Johnson each have 40 receptions to lead the team, while Johnson owns the lead in yards with 543. Eight different receivers have touchdowns this season with junior WR Josh Smith leading the way with six.

• Dausin's 83-yard touchdown strike to Washington at NMHU (Sept. 23) was the longest since an 82-yard connection between Chris Bonner and Paul Browning on Nov. 11, 2014. 

• The ThunderWolves have five seniors on the offensive line this season and rank 5th in the RMAC in the least tackles for loss allowed (5.8). They rank 33rd nationally (3rd in RMAC) in sacks allowed (1.3 per game).

• The Pack rank 23rd in NCAA Division II in red zone offense, as they are 44-for-50 (88%)this season. They have 36 touchdowns and seven field goals. Two misses were when the Pack went into victory formation.

• CSU-Pueblo sits 23rd nationally (2nd RMAC) in 3rd down conversion percentage (45.7%). 

• The Pack are 5th in the RMAC in total offense with 411.6 yards per game. 

DEFENSE

• The Pack have been one of the most stingiest and unforgiving defenses in the nation the past seven seasons. Since 2011, the ThunderWolves have finished the season in the top 22 nationally in scoring defense, which includes leading the country in 2011 and 2014. CSU-Pueblo has also ranked in the top 21 in turnover ratio (or turnovers gained) in all but one season in that span with the nation's best mark in 2014. 

• CSU-Pueblo ranks 10th nationally (1st in RMAC) in scoring defense this season at 14.3 points per game.

• The Pack have 21 interceptions in 2017 to rank 1st in the RMAC and 4th nationally. With six fumble recoveries added to the INT total, CSU-Pueblo ranked 1st in the RMAC and sits 11th in Division II in turnovers gained (27).

• The ThunderWolves totalled four pix sixes in 2016. CSU-Pueblo has five returned for scores (T-7th nationally in defensive TDs). CB Darius Williams has three this season to tie for the most in NCAA Division II (25 yards at NMHU - Sept. 23, 99 yards versus ASU - Oct. 7, and 35 yards against BHSU - Oct. 21). CB Emery Taylor also had a pick six against Black Hills State, as his went for 46 yards then returned on for 25 yards against WSCU (Oct. 28).

• Williams has at least one pick six in each of his three seasons with the Pack and four in his career. His eight interceptions this season established a new program record, was a RMAC best and ranks T-2nd in NCAA Division II. His 176 return yards is just short of a program record, set by C.J. Roberts in 2012 (187 yards) on five interceptions. 

• With eight interceptions and nine break-ups, Williams also tied for the led the RMAC in pass break-ups with 17 to sit T-12th nationally. Taylor tied Williams for the RMAC lead for passes defended, as he collected six interceptions (2nd RMAC, 12th nationally) and 11 break-ups to rank also sit T-12th nationally (17). 

• The ThunderWolves rank fourth in NCAA Division II in team passing efficiency defense (88.95) and are 18th nationally in passing yards allowed (164.6 ypg).

• Since 2008, the Pack have totaled 33 interception returns for a touchdown. The most in a season is five by the 2010, 2014 and 2017 squads. The Pack finished 10th in NCAA Division II in defensive TD's with five last season.

• CSU-Pueblo's rushing defense was established on game one of the program re-boot in 2008. The Pack allowed 13 yards rushing against Oklahoma Panhandle State (Sept. 8, 2008) and since have held their opponent to less than 50 yards rushing on 20 more occasions. 

• Six times since 2008 the ThunderWolves have allowed 10 or less rushing yards, with the record standing at -4 rushing yards at New Mexico Highlands Nov. 9, 2013.

• CSU-Pueblo was 1st in the league and ranks 24th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 108.9 yards per game.

• The ThunderWolves allowed just 14 passing yards to Western State (Oct. 28) and 84 total yards, then followed it with allowing Dixie State (Nov. 4) 63 passing and 168 total yards. Last week the Pack gave up just 56 rushing yards to Chadron State (Nov. 11).

• The Pack lead the RMAC and rank 10th nationally in total defense, allowing 273.5 yards per game.

• Junior inside linebacker Brandon Payer has 99 tackles with 66 solo. He is 4th in the RMAC in tackles and second in solo tackles (T-12th nationally). The 66 solo tackles is a new modern era program record. He adds 4.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss (-50 yards) that led the RMAC. 

• The Pack's red zone defense was the best in the RMAC and ranks 3rd nationally. They are allowing their opponent to score on 57.7 percent of their attempts (15-of-26). Of their 15 scores, 12 have gone for touchdowns. 

SPECIAL TEAMS   

• The Pack have two blocked punts (vs Colorado Mines, Aug. 31, vs Adams State, Oct. 7) ,a blocked extra point (at New Mexico Highlands, Sept. 23) and a blocked field goal (at Chadron State, Nov. 11) this season to rank 2nd in the RMAC in blocked kicks (35th nationally).  CSU-Pueblo is T-3rd in the RMAC and T-20th nationally in blocked punts. 

• Sophomore ILB Kyle Rosenbrock blocked and returned a punt 35 yards to the end zone in the win against Adams State. It was the first blocked punt for a score for the Pack since 2015. 

• CSU-Pueblo has allowed just one blocked kick (an extra point). 

• Sophomore WR Brandon O'Donnell recorded the second longest punt return for a touchdown in the RMAC this season when he returned a kick 63 yards to the end zone against Adams State (Oct. 7.). It was the first punt return for a score for the Pack since Dec. 6, 2014 against Ohio Dominican.

• WR Kevin Ribarich returned seven punts for 88 yards at Dixie State (Nov. 4) to record the most punt returns and punt return yards in a game in the RMAC this season.

• Ribarich finished 1st in the RMAC in punt returns with 10.5 yards per return (33rd nationally). On 24 returns he totaled 253 yards with a long of 34 yards.

• CSU-Pueblo is 23rd nationally in kick returns (23 ypr) and 41st (3rd in RMAC) in punt returns (11.5 ypr). CSU-Pueblo ranks 6th nationally in punt return defense, allowing just 2.7 yards per attempt. 

• New kicker, R-Fr. Mitchell Carter is 54-for-55 on extra points and 10-of-12 on field goals this season. He ranks 11th in NCAA Division II in the category of field goal percentage (min. 1 FGA per game). His 84 points is second on the team and is T-5th in the RMAC.

Junior punter Tanner Cuda is averaging 38.9 yards per kick. He has placed 23 of his 46 attempts inside the 20 (led the RMAC) and has five over 50 yards, which includes a 77 yard punt against Colorado Mesa (Sept. 30) - the second longest in the RMAC this season.

#PACKPROS: CSU-Pueblo has three former players in the NFL right now. Ryan Jensen (2009-12) is in his fifth season with the Baltimore Ravens and Mike Pennel (2013) is in his fourth overall season and first with the New York Jets. Morgan Fox (2012-15) moved from the practice squad to active roster last season and enters year two with the Los Angeles Rams. Jensen is starting at center for the Ravens, while Fox and Pennel are regulars on the defensive line. Paul Browning (2010-14) finished his second season in the Arena Football League (AFL) in July with the Baltimore Brigade. Former quarterback Chris Bonner (2013-14) finished his first season in the AFL with the Tampa Bay Storm. 

VS. RANKED SQUADS: CSU-Pueblo owns a 17-6 (11-4 at home) record versus ranked opponents (Division II) since 2011. The ThunderWolves went 6-0 versus the nation's top 25 in 2014 and also added a 47-21 win against Sam Houston State (No. 15) to record the team's first-ever victory against a ranked FCS team. The Pack went 4-1 against ranked opponents in 2015 and had won 10 straight against the nation's best before the loss to Grand Valley State.

STREAKS: CSU-Pueblo posted three straight 11-0 seasons entering 2014 and was just one of two teams in NCAA Division II history to accomplish the feat. After starting 5-0 in 2014, the Pack owned 42 straight regular season victories, which was the second-longest in NCAA Division II history, behind only Grand Valley State, which posted 48 straight wins from 2004-09. The streak ended Oct. 11 in a 23-22 road loss at Fort Lewis.

The Pack recorded 28 consecutive regular season home victories from a 66-0 win against New Mexico Highlands Oct. 30, 2010 to a 51-20 win against Colorado Mesa Nov. 7, 2015. 

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As a member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, Colorado State University – Pueblo competes in 22 varsity sports in NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletics.