With scouts from the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys watching Ben Roethlisberger’s every move, the 6-foot-5 junior did not disappoint.
Roethlisberger completed 29 of 39 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns, eclipsing 300 yards for the second straight game in the Redhawks 41-21 win over CSU Saturday at Hughes Stadium.
“”My hat goes off to him,” CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt said. “He’ll be a great player. I know he will do well down the road.”
The Redhawks started quickly as Roethlisberger led his team down the field on the first drive of the game, completing all six of his passes for 75 yards and capping the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Dan Tyler.
“We were able to take the opening drive and put it in,” Miami head coach Terry Hieppner said. “This gave our offense a lot of confidence.”
It took the Rams a while to get going, but late in the first quarter Van Pelt found junior H-Back Joel Dreessen who took the pass and rumbled 68 yards into the end zone to tie the game 7-7.
In the second quarter, the RedHawk offense found ways to keep the CSU defense off balance with a healthy dose of draw plays to junior running back Mike Smith who ended the day with 115 yards on 18 carries and three touchdowns.
The Ram offense was able to put together a strong drive before the half behind redshirt sophomore quarterback Justin Holland, making his only appearance of the game; but the drive stalled on a questionable fourth-and-four play that was designed to be a half-back pass, but senior running back Rahsaan Sanders, had to run the ball when he saw none of his receivers open, and got tackled back at the line of scrimmage.
“That was not a bad call,” Lubick said of the halfback pass. “They covered it real well and Rahsaan made the right decision.”
At the half the Rams were down 17-7.
“I still felt at halftime we were playing okay,” Lubick said.
On the first play of the second half, Dreessen fumbled and junior defensive lineman Will Rueff recovered the loose ball for the RedHawks on the CSU 30-yard line.
Roethlisberger and Co. were able to make the Rams pay for the mistake with a 15-yard touchdown pass. Roethlisberger showed a little flash on the play, scrambling around the pocket, escaping three tacklers and finding junior receiver Mike Larkin alone in the end zone.
On the Redhawks next drive, Roethlisberger again displayed his athleticism by scrambling around in the pocket and completing an 18-yard pass to Martin Nance on third-and-14 to set up Todd Soderquist’s 21-yard field goal for a 27-7 lead with 1:20 left in the period.
“(Roethlisberger) made some darned good plays,” Lubick said. “He escaped when we had him and completed passes. He has the ability to escape the rush. We had him several times, and he turned an 8-yard loss into a 15-yard gain.”
But the Rams would not go quietly. Just 16 seconds into their next drive, Van Pelt connected with sophomore speedster David Anderson on a slant rout, and Anderson outran the RedHawk defense en route to the end zone. The 86-yard play was the second longest pass play in CSU history, and the third longest pass play in the history of the Mountain West Conference.
With the capacity crowd of 31,610 now back in the game, the Ram defense was able to get the ball back for the offense on a Dexter Wynn fumble recovery on the Rams 17-yard line.
But with no running game, the RedHawks were able to focus on the pass and continually get to Van Pelt. The offensive line allowed a season-high three sacks, while the Rams backs were only able to rush for 76 yards.
“They (Miami) did a good job,” Lubick said. “I wish we could have run the ball better. I did not think they could shut us down. They had an answer for everything.”
The final answer came mid-way through the fourth quarter when on fourth-and-15 from the CSU 29, Roethlisberger looked over the Ram defense, checked his play, ran right on the option and pitched to Smith for a touchdown – the dagger in the Rams heart.
“We came on an all out blitz,” senior linebacker Drew Wood said. “They checked the play to a speed option, and we just did not get to the runner.”
After that the game was pretty much in the books.
Van Pelt was able to find Anderson again for his third touchdown pass of the day, but it was not enough.
“We wanted to put up some points and we did,” Roethlisberger said. “Our defense played well, and we just were able to keep the intensity for four quarters.”
The Ram game plan of running the ball and winning the time of position battle fell through. The RedHawks had the ball for 35:48 and totaled 536 yards of offense. The Rams on the other hand only saw the ball for 24:12 and totaled 388 yards of offense.
“They just kicked our asses in every area,” junior defensive end Patrick Goodpaster said.