An Unstoppable Force: Mines football advances to National Championship

Orediggers defeat Shepherd Rams 44-13 in semifinals

Corinne Westeman
Posted 12/10/22

The Colorado School of Mines football team has saved the season's biggest game for last — the NCAA Division II National Championship. The team plays defending champs Ferris State Dec. 17 in Texas, in the hopes of bringing home the program's first national title.

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An Unstoppable Force: Mines football advances to National Championship

Orediggers defeat Shepherd Rams 44-13 in semifinals


Amid the crowded Marv Kay Stadium, a Colorado School of Mines student held aloft a sign reading: “Why study for my physics final when Mines football can show me what an unstoppable force looks like?”

The Mines football team offered a perfect demonstration on Dec. 10, defeating Shepherd 44-13 and advancing to the NCAA Division II National Championship for the first time in program history.

Mines takes on reigning champs Ferris State 11 a.m. MST Dec. 17 in McKinney, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.

But what happens when an unstoppable force meets a seemingly immovable object in Ferris State?

The Bulldogs from Big Rapids, Michigan are 13-1 overall and won their Dec. 10 semifinal game against West Florida 38-17. The team’s on an eight-game win streak, won all its away games this season, and allows 14.6 points per game on average.

Still, the Orediggers are confident in their relentless defense and offensive firepower, Coach Brandon Moore and his players described. Plus, they’re on a 13-game win streak of their own, hoping to make it 14.

“The whole mantra and the whole idea behind the entire program is that everybody here believes that we could win a national championship,” Moore said after the Dec. 10 game. “ … I think that belief in the program and the direction that we’re going is what … keeps everyone focused on what we’re doing.”

Saturday Night Lights

The Dec. 10 semifinal game against Shepherd was undoubtedly the most important home football game in Mines history — perhaps Golden’s biggest athletic event ever in terms of both stakes and attendance.

Almost 6,200 people sold out Marv Kay Stadium, turning the home stands and end zones into seas of navy blue. Television cameras from ESPN and local affiliates packed the sidelines and the press box, putting Mines in the regional and national spotlights.

With all eyes seemingly on Golden, the game started off slow and very defensive. The teams were tied at 3 midway through the second quarter.

Taking over with 9:08 left in the half, Mines needed to create some offensive momentum. So, on first-and-10 at the Mines 47 yard-line, senior quarterback John Matocha threw a deep pass to junior wide receiver Max McCleod who carried it the final few steps for a touchdown.

Then, on the next Shepherd drive, Mines sophomore linebacker Jaden Healy sacked quarterback Tyson Bagent, causing a fumble. Mines recovered and scored shortly after, making it 17-3 at halftime.

After that, the Orediggers never looked back.

With the sunlight gone from the field, Mines scored three touchdowns under the stadium lights, including one that must be seen to be believed.

“The Play,” as Mines Athletics staff described it at the post-game press conference, eventually made it onto ESPN’s SportsCenter. Running out of the pocket, Matocha was nearly tackled at least once, but stayed on his feet just long enough to successfully heave it 33 yards to senior wide receiver Josh Johnston.

The Orediggers led 38-3 as the fourth quarter started. The Rams scored another field goal and a touchdown with a blocked PAT, but it was too little too late.

As the clock hit zero, the players, coaches and fans celebrated winning the Golden’s greatest game together.

“It was electric today,” Matocha said at the post-game press conference. “ … It’s extremely hard to win college football games at this level, especially this deep in the playoffs. And I think that the home field, all the alumni, all the students, and all the fans out there absolutely had a part to play in this game.”

The Rams congratulated the Orediggers, saying they showed great offensive energy and defensive pressure. Coach Ernie McCook said he’d be “rooting for blue” during the Dec. 17 championship game.

Champions Ore Bust

Moore, Matocha and senior linebacker Nolan Reeve hoped to keep this momentum going through the final game of “the second season,” as the Orediggers have described it.

Matocha, a finalist for the 2022 Harlon Hill Award, has been on fire in the playoffs. The Dec. 10 game offered an opportunity to watch him alongside Bagent, last year’s Harlon Hill winner.

Head-to-head, Matocha had the better performance. Bagent was sacked eight times and only had 165 passing yards, his lowest of the past two years. Meanwhile, Matocha recorded 371 yards, just short of his career high, and completed 82% of his passes.

The 2022 Harlon Hill Award winner will be announced Dec. 16.

While Matocha is arguably the best example of potent postseason play, he’s not the only one. Moore said the entire team is peaking at the right time.

“Our guys are playing at a different level right now,” Moore continued. “ ... We’re hitting on all cylinders — schematically and discipline-wise and play-wise.”

While the team lost to Valdosta State in last year’s semifinals, Moore said the game showed the Orediggers they belonged in those big games. After he took over as head coach in February, he and his colleagues assembled a team with 31 seniors, including many fifth- and sixth-year players.

Moore said everyone stayed was because they believed they could win a national championship. And the Orediggers hope to do just that this weekend and bring the trophy home to Golden.

As Matocha said: “We still got one more to play.”

Check out photo galleries from the Dec. 10 semifinal game on the Golden Transcript's Facebook page.

colorado, school, mines, football, team, program, orediggers, shepherd, rams, ncaa, semifinal, golden, marv, kay, stadium, division, ii, championship, game, john matocha, nolan reeve, coach brandon moore,


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