This one’s for all the marbles.
The Mountain West Conference championship is on the line this weekend, and one team will walk out of Hughes Stadium with the title. Needless to say, Saturday’s 4 p.m. showdown between the 20th-ranked CSU Rams (9-2, 5-0 MWC) and the New Mexico Lobos (6-5, 4-1 MWC) is arguably the most important game either team will play this season.
For the Rams, there’s more at stake than just the MWC title. At 5-0 in conference play, the Rams could not only clinch their second MWC championship in three years, but also secure the first undefeated conference record in school history.
“This is what you play football for,” said Chris Pittman, the Rams’ leading receiver. “If you can’t get up for this game, you shouldn’t put on a uniform. There’s just so much excitement coming into this game. To be able to do what no CSU team has done and go undefeated in conference, that’s an honor. Everybody’s anxious and ready to go.”
For the Lobos, a win Saturday would mean at least a share of the MWC title, but more importantly, would assure New Mexico a bowl berth. After struggling through their non-conference schedule, the Lobos have emerged as the only serious threat to the Rams’ run at an undefeated conference record.
New Mexico’s only loss in the MWC, a 38-31 overtime loss to Air Force early in the season, is a distant memory, and the Lobos come into Saturday riding a three-game winning streak. Last week’s 20-16 victory against Brigham Young was the Lobos’ first victory in Provo in 31 years, the last win coming in 1971 when current head coach Rocky Long was the Lobos’ quarterback.
Long expressed the dilemma of facing the two-headed monster that is Ram quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt and running back Cecil Sapp.
“You can fill up the inside gaps and make it hard for Sapp to run, but then you leave yourself wide open up for the option play, which is Van Pelt’s key,” Long said Tuesday at his weekly media luncheon in Albuquerque. “You go into the game trying to slow both of them down. Not very many people have been able to do that.”
Long’s Lobos are certainly on a roll coming into the game, but the Rams are on an even longer streak, having won five straight games. Even more impressive is the fact that CSU has blown out their last three opponents by a combined score of 117-43.
“I definitely feel like we’re the best team every time we step on the field and that we should’ve been blowing people out the whole year,” said Rams’ tight end Matt Bartz who leads the team with four receiving touchdowns. “I think that we’re a better team than New Mexico and if we come out and play like we can from the start, we’ll have another blowout.”
Junior linebacker Drew Wood shared Bartz’s take on the game.
“We’re going to come out firing and we’re going to look to bury them like we’ve been burying everyone else,” Wood said. “Our team realizes this is the game, and if you can’t get fired up for this one you need to go home.”