Stan Plewe, Dixie State Athletics
Dixie State running back Sei-J Lauago (25) cuts through a hole in the line in the first quarter against New Mexico Highlands on Saturday. Lauago rushed for 168 yards and a touchdown to lead DSU to a 28-23 win.

Dixie State football rallied for a 28-23 victory over New Mexico Highlands on Saturday at Trailblazer Stadium, overcoming an eight-point halftime deficit to tie the program’s best start in the Division II era.

Dixie State (2-1, 2-1 RMAC) jumped out to a 7-0 lead after Easton Smith found Brad Duran from four yards out midway through the first quarter to cap an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Sei-J Lauago rushed for 31 yards on the drive, while Smith and Duran set up the scoring play with a 26-yard completion on 4th-and-6 earlier in the drive. Duran made the catch at the NMHU 6-yard line while falling to the ground in double coverage.

The Cowboys (2-1, 2-1 RMAC) responded with back-to-back scoring drives to take its first lead of the game at 10-7 less than six minutes after DSU’s first touchdown.

The Trailblazers countered with an 8-play, 76-yard drive to retake the lead at 15-10 midway through the second quarter. Smith completed two passes for 24 yards on the drive, while a pair of penalties against the Cowboys helped DSU move to the NMHU 2-yard line. Smith capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run on a perfectly executed read-option run. Things got wacky after the touchdown, as the point-after attempt was blocked, but never crossed the line of scrimmage. DSU offensive lineman Tevia Tolutau scooped up the loose back and rumbled into the end zone for a two-point conversion.

After the DSU touchdown, NMHU again responded with back-to-back scoring drives and 14 unanswered points to take a 23-15 lead into the halftime break. But the Cowboys wouldn’t score again.

After allowing 152 rushing yards in the first half, the Dixie State defense stifled the Cowboys in the second half, allowing just 21 yards rushing while keeping the visitors off the scoreboard over the final two quarters.

In the meantime, the Trailblazers capitalized on an NMHU fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half to swing the game in their favor. Following the game’s first turnover, Lauago broke free for a 22-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 23-22 just 32 seconds into the third quarter.

Dixie State regained the lead later in the third quarter, mounting a 9-play, 59-yard scoring drive that saw the Trailblazers convert twice on fourth down. Facing a 4th-and-1 at midfield, DSU converted the first fourth-down attempt when Lauago took a handoff and raced around the left end for 12 yards. Three plays later, the Trailblazers were again in danger of a turnover on downs. This time, Smith fired a 33-yard strike on 4th-and-6 to Dejuan Dantzler, who made a diving catch at the NMHU 1-yard line. Lawrence Starks plunged into the end zone on the next play to push the score to the final tally of 28-23.

Both teams traded punts in the fourth quarter until the Cowboys looked to mount a possible game-winning drive late in the final frame. NMHU needed just four plays to move 47 yards to the DSU 33-yard line. The Trailblazers sealed the victory on the next play as Trayvon Watson picked off an NMHU pass across the middle.

Dixie State won its second consecutive game despite being outgained by the Cowboys. The Trailblazers finished with 363 yards (203 rush, 160 pass) of total offense. Smith completed 13-of-25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for another touchdown. Lauago eclipsed the century mark for the first time this season, rushing for 168 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries. Dantzler finished with four catches for 83 yards, while Duran also snagged four passes for 31 yards and his first touchdown of the year.

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Defensively, DSU allowed 393 yards (220 pass, 173 rush) of total offense. Three Dixie State defenders finished with seven tackles, including Mike Jones, J.T. Anderson, and Jordan Nichols, while Alex Lilliard recorded five tackles. Watson also added another five tackles to go with the game-sealing interception. The Trailblazers also won the turnover battle for the second consecutive game, forcing two turnovers while playing turnover-free for the second time in as many weeks.

The Trailblazers close out their three-game homestand next Saturday against South Dakota Mines at 6 p.m. inside Trailblazer Stadium.