Hunter Pearson’s road to joining the Colorado School of Mines football team was unusual to say the least.
Pearson was a kicker at the University of Virginia from 2018-2022, and — because of continual injuries and surgeries — he only played in two games for the Cavaliers.
While he had an additional year of eligibility because of COVID-19, he was in the workforce for a year in Denver. As he looked to pursue a master’s degree in computer science, Mines seemed like the obvious choice thanks to its proximity and strong academic reputation.
So, the Seneca, South Carolina native decided to use his final year of eligibility to join the Orediggers for the 2023 season.
“It’s a very random chain of events that lead to me being here, at this school right now,” Pearson said. “I’m happy it happened.”
And, no doubt, Mines football fans are too.
Pearson made the game-winning field goal against No. 3 Grand Valley State Aug. 31, securing a 31-28 home win for No. 2 Mines.
Pearson’s previous longest make in collegiate football was 29 yards in 2018. On Aug. 31, he made the 41-yard attempt into the wind.
“I trust my snapper; I trust my holder; I trust the (offensive) line,” Pearson continued. “I just went out there and kicked it like I kicked the PATs earlier in the game.”
While the Aug. 31 season opener was billed as a battle of Top 10 titans, by the end of the third quarter, the Orediggers had a 28-7 lead and looked like they could easily put it away.
However, the Lakers had a monster fourth quarter with two unanswered touchdowns, a successful onside kick and a tying touchdown with 36 seconds left.
The Mines offense flew down the field to get in field goal range, and with less than six seconds left, Pearson sent the ball sailing through the uprights.
“If you’re going to kick the game-winning field goal,” Pearson said, “that’s the best situation to be in — where it’s tied, where there’s a little bit less pressure. … You’re not down. It’s not sudden death.”
The Lakers had one final chance with two seconds left, playing hot potato in the backfield until Mines senior defensive end Jack Peterson fell on the ball and ended the game.
“I just sat there for a second and appreciated that we won,” Peterson said. “ … While it probably wasn’t our best game, I was really happy with the way we finished. If we can just carry that through the season, I think we’ll be great.”
Pete Sterbick, Mines’ first-year head coach, was very proud of the Orediggers’ efforts against the Lakers and hoped to build off that momentum in San Angelo, Texas.
“Our guys absolutely don’t give up hope,” Sterbick said. “ … We didn’t play good team football, which is a huge emphasis for us. But we were able to rise up and find a way.”
Until the final whistle
Despite the firepower on both teams, the first half was fairly defensive and low-scoring. The Lakers drew first blood, scoring a touchdown on their first drive. The Orediggers answered on their second drive of the game, and the first quarter ended tied at 7.
Both teams went on a scoring drought until the very end of the half, when Mines senior running back Noah Roper — an Erie, Colorado native and Dartmouth transfer — flipped over a GVSU defender to score his second touchdown of the game.
Starting the third quarter up 14-7, the Orediggers found a good rhythm on both sides of the ball. The defense stopped three GVSU drives in succinct fashion, while the offense scored two more touchdowns thanks to senior quarterback John Matocha and sophomore running back Landon Walker.
As the fourth quarter started, Oredigger fans likely believed their team would get a comfortable W against a Top 10 team. But the Lakers weren’t going to leave Golden without a fight, and time was on their side.
The fourth quarter — except for the final 36 seconds — were all Grand Valley State.
The Lakers forced three-and-outs on three Oredigger drives, and scored their second unanswered touchdown with 1:17 remaining. Down 28-21, the Lakers’ onside kick was successful, and they drove 35 yards in five plays to tie the game at 28.
Sterbick was surprised GVSU didn’t opt for a two-point conversion; and with the game tied, the Orediggers debated whether to push for a win or wait until overtime.
They chose the former, with Sterbick noting how much the Mines defense had played in the fourth quarter. Additionally, the Mines offense had just reviewed their similar drive last year at GVSU, which ultimately failed. While it was coincidental, Sterbick said examining it helped Matocha and the offense execute this time around.
“I don’t like that we put ourselves in that situation in the first place,” he said. “ … I think we kept putting (our defense) back out there too quick. … Your offense has to help your defense out when that’s happening.”
Peterson also believed the Orediggers came of halftime a little flat, adding, “I thought we had already put them away when we hadn’t. There was still a lot of time left on the clock.”
Peterson and Sterbick also commended GVSU for its solid play, with Sterbick saying its defense is probably the best Mines will play in the regular season — except for maybe Angelo State.
Among the highlights for the Orediggers, Sterbick commended Roper, Walker and Matocha for their strong offensive performances. He also highlighted Nick Stone, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, who’s stepping into Mason Karp’s slot from last season.
And, finally, Sterbick praised Pearson, senior punter Jacob Click, and the other special teams players. The kickers had finalized their lineups the day before the game, and Sterbick told them in the team meeting, “I want you guys to be a weapon for us.”
The beginning of the end
Peterson and Pearson were both excited to start their final football season with such a memorable win, with Peterson saying he’s cherishing these once-in-a-lifetime moments.
The Orediggers will have at least 19 departing seniors, most of whom are fifth- and sixth-year players using their extra year of eligibility. Peterson believed the Nov. 4 Senior Day game against New Mexico Highlands would be one to remember.
“It’s always been sentimental saying goodbye to all the seniors before me,” he continued. “It’ll be interesting to see what it’s actually like as a senior now.”
While this year will be his only one at Mines, Pearson was thankful to have joined such a “self-driven” team.
“The program’s awesome,” Pearson said. “ … They were in the national championship last year, and the goal is to go back and win that. We take it one game at a time, though. We’re just worried about next week.”