Dixie State University’s defense bent but didn’t break in the final seconds of the season opener Thursday.
With New Mexico Highlands University threatening to tie the game, the Trailblazers forced a turnover on downs, giving them the 14-21 victory — their first win in Legend Solar Stadium.
Nearly 4,000 fans packed the stadium, including a full student section where finding a seat was anything but easy. These fans were among the first to see the new uniforms worn by the Trailblazers. DSU’s new mascot, “Brooks the Bison,” also debuted at the game.
The Trailblazers drew first blood as they didn’t waste any time in scoring. One minute and 39 seconds into the game, sophomore quarterback Tyson Blackner connected with fellow sophomore running back Orlando Wallace, who took the ball 66 yards for the first touchdown of the season.
Blackner led the DSU offense going 12-22 with 158 yards and one interception.
DSU’s defense held the Cowboys to only 44 total yards in the first quarter and just 121 total yards in the first half. The stout defense forced the Cowboys running game to be almost non-existent, limiting them to only 9 rush yards in the first half. The Trailblazers limited NMHU to convert on only four of its 15 third-down conversion attempts throughout the game.
“The defense was flying around tonight,” head coach Shay McClure said. “[DSU’s defense] flew to the ball with bad intentions, and when you do that, you have a chance to be good.”
DSU, on the other hand, focused on establishing the run game early in the first half. Redshirt freshman running back Clifford Simms carried the bulk of the DSU’s rushing attack, gaining over 100 yards in the first half.
Early in the second quarter, DSU’s offense drove down the field and found itself with first down and goal to go from inside the 5-yard line. The Trailblazers made a go at the end zone four times but were unsuccessful and turned the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line.
Following the turnover, NMHU drove the ball down the field and capped off the drive with a 1-yard rushing touchdown. The Cowboys attempted a 2-point conversion, but were unsuccessful and DSU maintained the lead 6-7.
“Our coaches put us in the right spot,” said sophomore linebacker Peter Brown, a finance major from St. George. “All we had to do was do our job, execute, and give good effort.”
During halftime, DSU unveiled the new mascot for the school: “Brooks the Bison.” DSU was in the middle of honoring Legend Solar co-founders Shaun Alldredge and Shane Perkins for their $10 million donation to the football program.
To cap off the presentation, Brooks rode in on a motorcycle carrying two commemorative footballs and presented them to Alldredge and Perkins.
The presentation was a precurser to welcome the Trailblazers back on to the field after halftime.
NMHU received the second half kickoff and proceeded to drive the ball 53 yards down the field and score. The Cowboys were successful on the conversion this time, and they took the lead, 14-7.
DSU quickly responded by scoring on its next possession to tie the game up at 14. Following a punt from the Cowboys, the Trailblazers scored what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown on a trick play.
On the first play of the drive, Blackner threw a pass to freshman running back Sei-J Lauago, who then threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Dejuan Dantzler, a redshirt freshman wide receiver.
“I was just thinking ‘don’t let my team down,’” said Lauago, a general studies major from Paramount, California. “If it wasn’t for the way [the team] executed it, the play would have never happened.”
Lauago gave the Trailblazers a solid game off the bench. He finished with 70 rushing yards on eight carries, his longest of which went for a game-high 27 yards.
“I knew when my name was called, I had to step up for my team,” Lauago said. “The offensive line stepped up tonight.”
DSU had a chance to increase its lead midway through the fourth quarter, but lost a fumble on the 2-yard line, the second time in the game the Trailblazers were unable to put points on the board when in the red zone.
“I felt like we could have put the game away early,” McClure said. “We let them hang around, and that’s stuff you can’t do. When you’ve got a chance to put someone away, you need to do it.”
Following the fumble, NMHU took the ball down the field, taking over six minutes of the game clock. The Cowboys put themselves in position on the 18-yard line to tie or win the game. On fourth and 11 with 42 seconds left, DSU’s defense held strong and forced a turnover on downs to earn its first victory of the season.
“This team is different because we do things right,” Brown said. “Coach [McClure] wants to change this program, and hopefully the community can get behind us and from there on, [we can] just win games.”
The win is DSU’s first in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. They stand at 1-0 and will host South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Saturday at 6 p.m. at Legend Solar Stadium.