Stephen Candelaria is going out on top.
The 2012 Montezuma-Cortez graduate will graduate this month from Colorado School of Mines as a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion.
The Orediggers football team last won a share of the league title in 2014, and they split the RMAC this season after finishing with an 8-2 league record.
“I think one thing that was a little bit different about this group this year was the chemistry,” Candelaria said. “There was just something really electric about the team and I think we knew from the beginning.”
As an example, Candelaria explained how after starting the season 2-2, the team pulled together to rattle off seven consecutive wins to end the regular season at 9-2, win the RMAC, and secure a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Then, the No. 21 ranked Orediggers upset No. 17 Southwest Baptist University in the first round with a 63-35 road victory to record the program’s first playoff win since 2004.
“You dream about doing stuff like that as a kid,” said Candelaria. “We beat three top 25 teams and won the RMAC championship and went to the playoffs – and that was really special.”
Mines’ season concluded in the second round with a 38-17 loss to Ferris State to finish with a 10-3 record. But the Orediggers did finish with Division II’s No. 1 total offense and No. 2 passing offense, while allowing only 18 sacks in 525 passing downs.
They were also fourth in the nation for fewest tackles for loss allowed while averaging 5.2 yards per rushing attempt and 207 yards rushing per game.
Much of that offensive success stemmed from the offensive line, which boasted five all-RMAC selections, including Candelaria.
For the second consecutive season, Candelaria was All-RMAC Honorable Mention as an offensive lineman.
He was also honored for his work off the field, named an Allstate Good Works nominee in his final two years at Mines for his service work in the community.