Published: Monday, September 10, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 10, 2012 03:09
Spencer Duncan / The Mirror
UNC senior wide receiver Dominic Gunn runs the ball toward the end zone during the Bears’ 40-3 win Saturday.
There were cheers of elation and sighs of relief as the UNC football team — for the first time since Nov. 13, 2010 — won a game.
The University of Northern Colorado (1-1) rebounded in a big way from its season-opening loss to Utah with a 40-3 drubbing of Division II foe Colorado Mesa (0-2) Saturday at Nottingham Field.
UNC head coach Earnest Collins Jr. sat in post-game interviews wearing a smile and a gold polo shirt that received a celebratory water dousing, a vastly different scene when compared to last year’s winless season. The former UNC football player had finally brought a win to his alma mater.
“It feels good to get the first one out of the way,” Collins said. “I’m extremely thrilled to have the opportunity to be at this awesome university and to get that first victory today was a blessing.”
Collins’ players shared in his excitement in the team.
“I’m so proud of this team, and we fought all game, and to get that ‘W’ feels great,” junior quarterback Seth Lobato said. “I’m just so excited for the guys, and hopefully it’s one of many.”
Lobato and the rest of the offense showed what it was capable of after being shut out against Utah more than a week prior. The Bears racked up 409 yards of offense and relied on key plays by the defense to get the offense back on the field.
UNC had two first-quarter interceptions — one from senior safety Jordan Bible and another from junior linebacker Clarence Bumpas — the latter of which set up the Bears’ first touchdown, a four-yard rush from junior running back Tromaine Dennis with 4:53 left in the quarter.
Dennis would have 88 total rushing yards and two other rushing touchdowns by the end of the game, a performance he attributed to the play of the offensive line.
“I praise them every time I’m on the sideline for getting up to the ball and executing,” Dennis said. “They created holes and they created seams for me. I just try to hit them when I see them.”
The Bears’ offense stalled for the rest of the half, only managing a field goal. Colorado Mesa got on the board shortly before halftime with a 44-yard field goal to pull within 10-3 at the break.
UNC got a little more breathing room when Lobato found sophomore wide receiver Dimitri Stimphil wide open over the middle for a 46-yard touchdown with six minutes gone in the third quarter. UNC added a 30-yard fumble return for a touchdown from sophomore linebacker Leilon Willingham and another field goal in the quarter. Dennis paid his final two visits to the end zone in the fourth to complete the scoring.
“It stretched the defense a little bit,” Lobato said of the touchdown to Stimphil. “They were more aware of that we might go deep now, so that opened up the run game. It really helped the offense out.”
The defense also shined with its four forced turnovers in the game. Along with the aforementioned interceptions and fumble recovery, an interception by sophomore cornerback Courtney Hall in the end zone with less than 15 seconds left preserved the final margin.
“It definitely showed that the offseason training is starting to pay off,” Bumpas said. “The defense definitely showed what it’s capable of.”
For the first time since the team’s last win, Saturday was the first time all cylinders clicked in the same game when they were needed. And the team doesn’t intend on stopping now.
“It feels good to win at home, our home-opener, my senior season,” said wide receiver Dominic Gunn, who had 193 all-purpose yards. “We just want to continue this and keep winning.”
The Bears’ next test comes at Sacramento State (1-1) at 3:05 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Stadium. The Hornets will enter Saturday’s game off a 30-28 victory against the University of Colorado this weekend in Boulder. Even though Sacramento State is a Big Sky team, the game will not count toward conference play because of the realignment the conference went through over the summer.