Saturday, September 23, 2006
Northern Colorado punter back two weeks after attack
GREELEY, Colo. -- Less than two weeks after being stabbed in the kicking leg in what police said was a rivalry over the Northern Colorado starting punter's position, Rafael Mendoza returned to the field Saturday to reclaim his spot.
Mendoza booted the ball four times, averaging nearly 40 yards (39.8) per punt, had a season high 58 yarder, and even tried tackling a guy 11 days after the attack left a 3- to 5-inch deep puncture wound in his leg. Northern Colorado lost to Western Illinois 42-28.
"It felt good today. When I tried to tackle the guy on the punt return, it got tweaked a little, but overall, I'm glad to be back."
Later he added: "I don't have any bandages. It's still an open wound, it's just starting to heal on the outside."
Former backup punter Mitch Cozad was arrested after the Sept. 12 stabbing, but prosecutors Friday said they needed more information before deciding whether to file charges.
Mendoza's first punt came with 8:12 remaining in the second quarter and was a low-line drive that rolled to the 24-yard line, netting 46 yards.
Coach Scott Downing said Mendoza had been checking with doctors all week and practicing punting with Nerf footballs and volleyballs. He decided after pregame warmups to put Mendoza in when the kicker told him he felt no pain.
"I was concerned about his flexibility but he was doing a good job. It was just like the old Rafael, he was punting well," Downing said.
Herb Donaldson rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns and Thomas Marco caught two of Steve LaFalce's three touchdown passes in Western Illinois' (3-1) victory. LaFalce, who completed 14-of-21 for 214 yards with no interceptions, also had a touchdown toss to Javid Milton.
Andrew Wilson ran for three touchdowns and Dominic Breazeale added another for Northern Colorado (1-3) which upset Texas State 14-13 last week.