On Nov. 12, defensive end Jacob Wienecke and his fellow seniors did what they’ve been doing almost nonstop since joining the Colorado School of Mines football team — they scored, they stopped, they won.
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For its Senior Day game, Mines destroyed Fort Lewis 80-0, finished the regular season undefeated in RMAC play, and took home the conference title.
On top of that, the 2022-23 senior class officially became the winningest in program history, with 43 wins and four conference titles.
“That’s something that makes this team special: everyone has the mindset that we’re going to win every game,” Wienecke said. “It’s the expectation, and we make it a reality every time.”
The Orediggers, who finished the regular season 9-2 overall, earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Division II tournament and will host CSU-Pueblo Nov. 19 in a first-round game. If Mines wins, it will host the Nov. 26 second-round game against the winner of Minnesota State and Wayne State.
To advance to the NCAA Division II championship game Dec. 17 in McKinney, Texas, the Orediggers must win four consecutive games, including a likely rematch with undefeated No. 1 seed Angelo State.
“It’s the last dance,” senior center Matt Armendariz said. “We (seniors) have been here for five years, and with that COVID year, it’s been a long ride. I’m excited to hopefully end it on a high note in McKinney, Texas.”
Senior running back Michael Zeman described the playoffs as the team’s second season, saying, “One season down, and the next one’s just beginning.”
A total triumph
The Nov. 12 game was historic not only for the 2022-23 senior class, but for Zeman individually.
The running back set three program records — career rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns, and total touchdowns — on Senior Day. He now has 4,154 career rushing yards and 62 touchdowns, with the likelihood of more in the postseason.
“It means a lot — and to do it in front of the home crowd too ,” Zeman said of his record-setting game, adding that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates and coaches. “It’s definitely surreal. Knowing the guys that came before, and how good they were.”
Additionally, the Orediggers posted their largest-ever margin of victory in an RMAC game, and second-largest in school history. It's only surpassed by Mines’ 103-0 win over Colorado in 1890.
Mines first scored on a 6-yard Zeman carry and never looked back. It was 49-0 by halftime, and younger players subbed in during the second half. Zeman noted the important learning opportunity for younger players, and Wienecke described it as chance for some starters to rest and recover before playoffs.
Now, as Armendariz said, “It’s full speed ahead.”
One last ride together
The Orediggers’ first season, so to speak, started with a few hiccups.
The team went 0-2 in close games against ranked teams Grand Valley State and Angelo State, but Armendariz and Zeman felt both games were moral victories.
Plus, Armendariz said, Mines isn’t the same team it was back in September.
Wienecke felt those two early losses just pushed Mines to improve, which helped the team go undefeated in conference play.
“I think it gave us fuel. It was something I think we needed,” Wienecke continued. “Hopefully, it will take us into the national championship.”
Along with the proverbial second season, the three seniors are also preparing to graduate in December. Armendariz and Zeman both said they start jobs in early 2023, and Wienecke said he plans to take some time off, return home to Texas, and figure out his next steps.
Balancing football with academics has been challenging, Wienecke described, but his teammates helped him through his “rough patches,” stay at Mines and finish strong.
“I’ve really enjoyed being with all the seniors,” he said. “ … I’m going to take a lot of (these experiences) with me for the rest of my life. I thank them for the fact that I’m still here.”
Armendariz and Zeman expressed similar affection and appreciation for their fellow seniors and hoped to win the National Championship together before going their separate ways.
“The last four or five years have been … the best time of my life,” Zeman said. “I owe it all to the guys who’ve been with me through thick and thin. I can’t imagine doing it without them.”
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