In an unfamiliar place a little more than 5,700 feet above sea level, Kutztown University’s historic football season came to an end.
Making their first appearance in the NCAA Division II Final Four and first west of the Mississippi, the fourth-seeded Golden Bears fell 35-7 to top-seeded and top-ranked Colorado School of Mines Saturday in a semifinal at Golden, Colorado.
“Overall the kids played really hard,” Kutztown coach Jim Clements said. “It wasn’t the outcome that we’re looking for but it doesn’t take away from the season these guys have had, that the senior class had. This was their last time playing college football today.
“It’s really difficult because we have a lot of seniors that have done a lot for our program. So I feel bad for those guys.”
Led by senior quarterback John Matocha, the 2022 Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the top player in Division II and a finalist this year, the Orediggers (14-0) jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and remained in control for most of the game.
Matocha was 30-of-37 passing for 292 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for 25 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. All of his touchdown passes came in the first half and helped Colorado School of Mines establish a 21-7 halftime lead.
“Their quarterback was pretty good,” Clements aid. “He got out of some things pretty well. Give these guys credit, they got a good team. They keep you off balance, they keep you on your toes, they have a lot of different weapons and they spread the ball around really well, so give them credit. They did a good job and their defense is really stout and played the run well.”
Kutztown quarterback Judd Novak, a redshirt freshman, was 19-of-30 passing for 128 yards with an interception. He also ran for 82 yards. His 59-yard touchdown run, during which he broke several tackles, briefly gave the Kutztown (12-3) momentum as it cut it to 14-7 with 2:28 left in the first half.
“Not only did he run it in,” Clements said, “he ran over two guys to keep his team alive, so that was a big jolt of confidence for the team.”
That jolt was somewhat short-lived as Matocha led the Orediggers on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Flynn Schiele with 36 seconds remaining in the first half.
“Got the score to make it a one-possession game and then the touchdown late in the half really hurt,” Clements said.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion Golden Bears received the ball to start the second half, but Kutztown picked up just one first down in the third quarter.
On the Orediggers’ second possession of the second half, Matocha accounted for 56 yards (13 rushing, 43 passing) on an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ended with his 7-yard touchdown run to make it 28-7.
The wind was all but taken out of Kutztown’s sails on the ensuing drive when Darry Davis-McNeil caught a swing pass from Novak on fourth-and-1 from the KU 48 for what appeared to be a enough yardage for the first down.
But after further review, the officials overturned the call. The Golden Bears went 0-for-2 on fourth-down attempts.
“We had to roll the dice there at times,” Clements said. “I don’t regret going for it there. I thought we had it. It is what it is. We thought about going for it earlier in the game on fourth-and-10 but decided to punt and they ran into the kicker. So then we had to go for it and they came up with a good play. It was tough, we didn’t play our best, but we definitely played hard.”
A 26-yard touchdown run by Landon Walker with 4:57 left closed the scoring.
The Orediggers will face second-seeded Harding, a 55-14 winner over Lenoir-Rhyne in the other semifinal, in the final next Saturday at McKinney, Texas. They lost 41-14 to Ferris State in last year’s championship game.
Colorado School of Mines came out fast. After starting the opening drive at the 50 thanks to a strong kick return, the Orediggers needed just three plays to score as Matocha found Schiele for a 30-yard touchdown.
After forcing the Golden Bears to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Matocha led the Orediggers on a 13-play, 68-yard drive that was capped by a 4-yard TD pass to Noah Roper.
Novak then was intercepted, but Kutztown’s defense tightened and allowed Colorado School of Mines to earn just one first down over its next three possessions.
“Early in the game we gave up a big return and it got them to midfield,” Clements said. “Three plays later they’re in the end zone just like that. That was unfortunate we didn’t start out well defensively and then the next series they scored on us again and that hurt.
“But then we settled in and made three big stops.”
Kutztown had 150 offensive yards in the first half (85 rushing, 65 passing) while the Orediggers had 231 yards (197 passing, 34 rushing). They finished with 457 total yards, 165 rushing.
The Golden Bears finished with 108 rushing yards on 25 attempts and 236 total yards.
“Our kids fought really hard, we played hard,” Clements said. “We ran the ball over 100 yards. Judd Novak was special running with the football today and keeping us in the game, to be honest. And the defense, at times we played really well, and at times we gave up (too much).
“At the end of the day we didn’t do our jobs.”
With a successful season filled with many program firsts now in the rearview, Clements and Kutztown look to use the experience from the deep playoff run to fuel improvement.
Knowing the value of the support they received as title contenders, the Golden Bears will look to return to the Final Four and beyond in 2024.
“The one thing about us is we play hard; the kids fight,” Clements said. “Another nice thing about us is that we play a lot of guys, so a lot of guys have gotten experience; it’s not their first rodeo.
“They’re gonna get better, but 2024 is going to be based off the offseason and how we do in the offseason and how we come together. These guys just played 15 games in a row, they have to concentrate on finals, get their grades right and then get healthy. Then once we come back, we’ll hit the ground running and get better.
“We had a great crowd here today. We had a bunch of alumni that live out this way and drove here from Arizona, Colorado or Nevada. A lot of parents came. It was awesome to have that support and we want stuff like that to continue.
“If we win they’ll come, it’s like Field of Dreams right? We got to give them something to cheer for.”
Source: Berkshire mont