Gibbons lifts Football to Senior Day victory
By HEATHER KENNEDY
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado senior safety Marcel Gibbons wasn't about to lose on his home field in the final game of his career.
In the fourth quarter alone he had two interceptions, a tackle for loss and two assisted tackles, including a fourth-down stop with under a minute to play to lift the Bears (5-6, 4-4 Big Sky) to a 28-27 win over North Dakota (5-6, 3-5 Big Sky) at Nottingham Field.
"Half of these gray hairs on my chin are from that kid (Gibbons)," Northern Colorado coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. "He's a tremendous football player, and he's one of those ones that's going to go out on his own tangent every once in a while, but sometimes that tangent turns out to be a great thing. He's a unique player in the sense that Marcel's played probably five different positions for us. The kid has a unique ability to comprehend it and do anything we ask him to do."
Gibbons ended the game with nine tackles, second-most on the defense, but his two interceptions doubled his career total to four and saved a potential comeback win by UND. Fellow senior Herve Tonye-Tonye ended his time at Northern Colorado with 12 tackles, the second-straight game he's been in double figures.
The game felt eerily similar to last year's when North Dakota's kicker Zeb Miller lined up for a 51-yard field goal with 47 seconds remaining, however UND Head Coach Chris Mussman decided to go for it on fourth-and-one after a Bears' timeout, and Tonye-Tonye and Gibbons came up with the big stop.
A year ago, Miller nailed a 54-yarder with 1:52 left to give UND a 27-25 win.
"I'll start it the way my old coach used to start it: 'How 'bout them Bears, baby?,'" Collins said at the beginning of his press conference, referring to former Northern Colorado coach Joe Glenn (1990-99).
"That about sums it up for me. I'm just so proud of the kids. They bought in. We asked them to last year when we were trying to get something built and we learned from that year. For me, you never want to go through that, but that was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career. I had to take a step back and take a look at myself and ask myself 'What are you doing this for?' I put so much pressure on myself because I'm coming back to my alma mater and I want to get it back to where it belongs and I started to lose focus on what my purpose was, and it wasn't to drive the kids into the ground and just get every win I could. That's the ultimate goal, to win, but the ultimate goal is to make the young men that come into this program better when they go out. If you do that, and I heard an old coach say 'They don't care what you know until they know that you care,' and once you figure that piece out then they understand when you get on them it's not because you have something against them; that you're just trying to make them better then things start to change. I figured that out about game three of this year and they just started rolling and we're going to keep going."
Junior running back Tromaine Dennis had his best day in a Bears jersey, carrying the ball 28 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-best rush of 67 yards for a score. He betters his previous high of 178 yards from earlier this year against Idaho State. It is also the sixth-most yards in school history and the best mark since the team moved to Division I.
"We couldn't stop them in the first half," Collins said. "The kid had almost 300 yards passing. I told (offensive coordinator) Jon (Boyer) at half-time, this is one of those games, I don't know if we can stop them. If Tromaine can handle it, just give them the ball and let him go and he ended up with over 200 rushing yards. That kid was a blessing for us. We got him about 10 days before the first game – he had some credit issues that we had to wait on him for – and Coach Armour found him and brought the tape to me. I saw the tape and said 'I don't care when he gets here, I'll wait on him.' The kid got it done and he got here and I'm so glad we got him because it's been a big difference for us."
Junior quarterback Seth Lobato completed 20-of-35 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw one interception and was not sacked and has now topped 200 passing yards in 14 of 16 Big Sky Conference games. Lobato spread out the offense, hitting seven different receivers and no player had more than 52 receiving yards.
Sophomore Dimitri Stimphil caught six passes for 52 yards, while junior Jace Davis had four catches for 51 yards and one touchdown before leaving the game in the third quarter due to an injury. Sophomore Sawyere Monson scored the other touchdown on a 23-yard catch.
Senior linebacker Cameron Friend also had a big day in the final game of his career with a 23-yard interception return in the first quarter as well as two tackles for loss and a quarterback sack. He ended the day with six total stops.
Sophomore corner Mykel Morse had a career-best three pass breakups in the game, including back-to-back defenses at the end of the first half to save a UND touchdown. The Bears' defense also forced a fumble in the game as senior corner Jordan Bible forced it and Morse recovered it for four turnovers on the day.
"It'll be a great off-season," Collins said. "We ended it on a good note and now the sky's the limit for the kids because they believe. Like I said before, it didn't happen in a win this year, it happened in a loss. It happened when we played NAU here and we lost that game 10-12. For the first time since I've been here I saw hurt. I saw hurt on their faces and I told them, standing out there on the field, 'something's going on right now because I hadn't seen that look in their face and they started to believe that game and it's been awesome ever since. You can see the lessons learning. You can see them understanding that we can do this."