Rams comeback efforts ‘too little, too late’ in loss to Middle Tennessee

Defensive+back+Henry+Blackburn+%2811%29+tries+to+keep+the+ball+away+from+Marley+Cook+%2857%29+during+the+Colorado+State+University+football+game+against+Middle+Tennessee+State+University+Sept.+10%2C+2022.+The+Rams+lost+34-19.

Collegian | Reuel Indurkar

Defensive back Henry Blackburn (11) tries to keep the ball away from Marley Cook (57) during the Colorado State University football game against Middle Tennessee State University Sept. 10, 2022. The Rams lost 34-19.

Braidon Nourse, Sports Editor

The Colorado State University Rams football team held their home opener against the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders Saturday afternoon. The Rams, down 34-0 at one point, mounted a comeback effort, but still lost 34-19.

The game got off to a slow start following a cool, rainy morning as a Middle Tennessee injury on the opening kickoff halted the game for around five minutes.

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On the ensuing play, Rams quarterback Clay Millen was picked off by Middle Tennessee’s Tra Fluellen off of a tip by Rams receiver Tory Horton, which was returned for a touchdown. The extra point kicked by Zeke Rankin put the Blue Raiders up 7-0.

Not long after the opening kickoff, the Rams got another shot at an offensive possession, this time down by a score. The Rams would go three and out and were forced to punt. 

The first Middle Tennessee crack at the offensive side of the ball started mostly on the ground through running back Frank Peasant. The Blue Raiders could not capitalize on the drive, however, and had to punt. 

Colorado State defensive back Mohamed Kamara (42) sacks Middle Tennessee quarterback Chase Cunningham (16) Sept. 10
Colorado State defensive back Mohamed Kamara (42) sacks Middle Tennessee quarterback Chase Cunningham (16) Sept. 10. The Rams lost 34-19 to the visiting Blue Raiders (Collegian | Gregory James)

The theme of the first quarter was a lack of production from the Rams offensive line, who failed to protect Millen long enough for passing plays to develop. Another common sight during the first frame was injuries, as there were a total of four hurt players, two on each team. 

On the list of injuries was offensive lineman Dontae Keys, who went down with an apparent re-injury to a stretch medial collateral ligament, head coach Jay Norvell said at the post-game press conference. Keys was the replacement for Brian Crespo-Jaquez, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week at practice, also according to Norvell.

By the time the half was over, both A’jon Vivens and Millen fumbled the ball, which both resulted in Middle Tennessee scores, including a touchdown by Peasant. The Rams trailed 27-0 going into the break.

“I’m really disappointed about some of the fundamental things that we did not do early in this game,” Norvell said. 

To open the second half, the Blue Raiders marched into Rams territory following a Rams pass interference. On the next play, Middle Tennessee quarterback Chase Cunningham found receiver Elijah Metcalf for a 42-yard bomb to the end zone, pushing the lead to 34-0 quickly after halftime.

“(I) was more encouraged by our effort the second half, but it was just a little bit too little too late. We’re going to have to really look hard at this film and try to make some corrections to give ourselves a competitive chance next week.” –Jay Norvell, CSU football head coach

The Rams responded with deep passes of their own when Millen found Horton for a 48-yard score, then again on the next drive for 69-yard score.

Kicker Cayden Camper missed one of the two extra points, cutting the Rams deficit to 34-13.

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On the next Blue Raider drive, Rams defensive lineman Mohamed Kamara forced and recovered a fumble, setting up another Rams drive at the Blue Raiders’ 36-yard line.

This drive would be capped off by another touchdown from Millen to Horton from 17 yards out, making Horton the ninth receiver in CSU history to have three receiving touchdowns in a single game. The Rams went for two, but did not convert, keeping the score at 34-19 with time left in the third quarter.

On the next Blue Raiders drive, Cunningham was picked off by Rams defensive back Jack Howell after a fortunate bounce off of a helmet. Down by two possessions, the Rams began to beat themselves with penalties, and Camper missed his second kick of the day, this time a field goal from 43 yards out.

With another attempt at continuing the comeback, Millen forced a deep ball to Horton on a fourth down that ended up being intercepted by Middle Tennessee cornerback Decorian Patterson with less than nine minutes left in the game. 

The Blue Raiders were able to run the clock down to less than three minutes, which proved to be insufficient for the Rams to get back into the game.

“(I) was more encouraged by our effort the second half, but it was just a little bit too little, too late,” Norvell said. “We’re going to have to really look hard at this film and try to make some corrections to give ourselves a competitive chance next week.”

The Rams will travel to Pullman, Washington, to take on Washington State University Sept. 17.

Reach Braidon Nourse at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @BraidonNourse.