Stan Plewe, Dixie State Athletics
Freshman running back Sei-J Lauago (right) breaks away for a 27-yard run vs. New Mexico Highlands on Thursday. Lauago finished with 70 yards rushing on eight carries to help Dixie State to a 21-14 win. (Photo by Stan Plewe, Dixie State Athletics)

The Dixie State football team opened the 2016 season Thursday with a thrilling 21-14 comeback win over New Mexico Highlands at Legend Solar Stadium in its first game as a football affiliate member of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

With the win Dixie State improves to 1-0 overall and 1-0 in RMAC play. The win also marks the Trailblazers first season-opening win since Aug. 27, 2009, in a 37-28 win over Adams State.

Dixie State led the Cowboys for the first 35 minutes of the game, before NMHU took its first lead at 12-7 after a 3-yard pass from quarterback Cody Keith to receiver Ramone Atkins. The Cowboys converted on a 2-point try to push the lead to 14-7 with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter.

The Trailblazers wasted no time responding and countered with an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 14-14 with 3:41 remaining in the period. Freshman running back Sei-J Lauago set up the eventual scoring play, carrying the ball five times for 48 yards on the drive. Sophomore running back Orlando Wallace capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on a pitch from sophomore quarterback Tyson Blackner.

The Trailblazer defense then forced a three-and-out to give the offense a chance for the go-ahead score. And the offense did not disappoint. The Trailblazers took the lead on the next play when Blackner tossed a lateral pass to Lauago, who fired a strike to redshirt freshman receiver Dejuan Danztler for a 61-yard half-back pass touchdown. Sophomore kicker Anthony Reyes converted the PAT to give DSU the eventual winning lead of 21-14 with 1:30 remaining in the third quarter.

“I’m really happy for these guys,” head coach Shay McClure said. “This is what it’s really about. It’s not about us coaches; it’s not about the fans who were great tonight. But, it’s really to give these guys something to build upon. They’ve been working hard throughout the summer and through fall camp. To come out and get a victory, I just feel so happy for them.”

Dixie State struck first on the third play of the game when Wallace slipped away from the NMHU defenders and Blackner delivered a 66-yard touchdown pass to give the Trailblazers an early 7-0 lead.

DSU looked to add to the lead early in the second quarter when it drove 78 yards in 10 plays to set up a first-and-goal situation at the 7-yard line. But the Cowboys defense stiffened and stopped Dixie State on the goal line on fourth down.

NMHU opened its scoring two drives later, marching 71 yards in eight plays, capped by running back Davonte Lynch leaping over the DSU defense from the 1-yard line. The Cowboys went for a 2-point try, but the Trailblazers stopped Atkins shy of the goal line.

Dixie State held NMHU to 275 yards of total offense (154 passing, 121 rushing), the first time DSU has held an opponent to less than 300 yards of total offense since Oct. 25, 2014, when it held Menlo College to 257 yards of total offense.

Junior safety Colton Olson and sophomore linebacker Peter Brown led the way with eight tackles each, while senior Darius Matthews finished with six tackles and one sack. Junior linebacker Shiloh Pritchard also finished with six tackles, and senior defensive lineman Keanu Foki recorded two tackles and one sack.

Blackner completed 12-of-22 passes with one interception and one touchdown, while redshirt freshman running back Clifford Simms rushed for 101 yards on 16 carries. Lauago finished with 70 yards rushing on eight carries. Dantzler finished with 106 yards receiving and one touchdown, while Wallace recorded 74 yards receiving and scored two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving).

Dixie State returns to action next Saturday, Sept. 10, hosting South Dakota Mines at 6 p.m., at Legend Solar Stadium.

Keric Seegmiller is Assistant Coordinator of Media Relations at Dixie State University and the Voice of Trailblazer Athletics. Contact him at [email protected].