Colorado School of Mines football onto second straight Division II semifinal

GOLDEN — For all of the hoopla emanating from Boulder over the past week, Colorado School of Mines quarterback John Matocha has helped pry at least some attention back south to Marv Kay Stadium this weekend.

That’s where the most successful college football program in Colorado — well, for the past few years anyway — is set to compete for a spot in the NCAA Division II national title game.

Led by Matocha, a Harlon Hill Trophy finalist for the best player in Division II, Mines is in the Division II semifinals for the second consecutive season. The Orediggers will host West Virginia’s Shepherd University (13-1) and 2021 Harlon Hill winner Tyson Bagent at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, with the game airing on ESPN+.

“I never played past the second round in high school, but now at Mines, we’ve broken the second-round curse and it’s definitely the furthest I’ve gone — since last year,” Matocha said. “Hopefully I can play every day here after for two more weeks.”

Matocha, a senior who majors in computer science, has had robotic-like precision this fall with 50 total touchdowns (45 passing, five rushing) and over 4,200 yards passing this year. He leads Division II in passing efficiency (183.3), points responsible (264) and yards-per-pass (10.0).

Last week, he accounted for all six Mines touchdowns to avenge a Week 2 loss to Angelo State, which had D2’s top defense, in a 42-24 Orediggers victory. The Magnolia, Texas native also surpassed the 10,000-yard club for his career, joining Harlon Hill winner Justin Dvorak, who accomplished the feat in 2016.

The Orediggers are senior-laden, with 33 in all, five of whom who came back for a sixth season. That includes Wheat Ridge native Michael Zeman, now the program’s all-time leading rusher who also holds the most touchdowns for a college football player in Colorado with 64. Josh Johnston is one of two 1,000-yard wide receivers (redshirt junior Max McLeod is the other) and center Matt Armendariz has been a staple up front. The group is eager to give the program its first national championship, but they know it’s not going to come easy.

“I think that some of the underclassmen are definitely playing for (the seniors) and we don’t want to stop,” Matocha said. “Those are some of my best friends. The bonds you form on this team are special, on another level. I don’t want to stop playing football with these guys and don’t wanna stop seeing them.

“…The first thing that comes to my mind of when I knew things were special here was my freshman year. (The program) instantly accepted me as an 18-year-old and made me feel welcome. Through the ups and downs, they helped instill the belief and we were gonna fight for each other no matter what.”

For first-year Mines head coach Brandon Moore, the goal has always been the same: To compete for a national title. A defensive coordinator who had been with the Orediggers the past six seasons before being named head coach in January, he helped mold the unit into one of the nation’s most formidable.

The 2021 team lit the path for this year’s club to succeed, reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history before falling at Valdosta State, 34-31. Back in September, when asked what needed to be done for the program to take things one step further, Moore said it boiled down to his players supporting each other every step of the way.

“I think we do a good job of winning here and that culture is ingrained with what the university is about in itself. It’s about being the best, winning and continuing to carry that along with us,” Moore said. “One of the best things we do is, and it’s solely about our student-athletes, is that they’re each others’ greatest supporters and are also hard on each other at the same time.”

Three months later, the Orediggers are two steps away from their goal. Matocha feels ready to finish the job.

“We’ve earned our spot,” He said. “It’s definitely rewarding and while I’m thankful to be in this position, one, we’re not done, and two, this is where we expect to be.”

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