Hope. It was the thing missing in the two previous games in which the SFU football team was blown out by a combined score of 115–10.
While far from a victory, the Clan’s 56–24 loss on September 17 to the Humboldt State University Lumberjacks showed more promise than the final scoresheet displays. The team came back from a disastrous first half which saw them down 35–3, managing a 21–21 tie in second half scoring.
“We were finally able to put some points on the board and show what our defence can do when we give them a rest,” said head coach Kelly Bates. “But when we don’t give them a rest, like in the first half, they’re on the field so long and it’s tough to stop the offence.”
A large part of the Clan’s hope beginning this semester came in the form of running back Jalen Jana, a transfer this offseason from Cheyney University where he redshirted and played his freshman season. Normally number two on the depth chart, he was the go-to guy as Ante Litre did not play due to injury. With 262 rushing yards, he made a solid case for the future of SFU’s offence.
“You can see in the second half, we really moved the ball well, the offensive line blocked great, and there were some big holes,” said Jana after the game, humbly giving the offensive line credit for his performance.
“Depth is an issue, but the guys out front there are working hard, blocking hard, and playing well, so when their confidence is up, I’ve just got to read it, and it makes my job really easy.”
Jana’s talents weren’t just limited to the running game. In a surprising play call, he was lined up as quarterback not once, but twice. The second time, on a third down on a drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Jana threw a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Tom Franklin for a touchdown.
“We were working on that all week,” said Jana with a laugh. “And then we just put it in, and we wanted to use it in the redzone. We tried it the first half, and the safety stayed, so I kept it, but the second half the DB [defensive back] wasn’t paying attention and our receiver beat him, so I threw to him, and my guy got the ball.”
Bates said that he had devised the play on the way home from the game against Texas A&M Kingsville the weekend before.
“We started studying on the way home. We had a long layover in Houston,” he explained. “They’re score zone plays trying to create leverage, just like every other play, that’s all we’re trying to do — trying to create leverage and confusion. It was something new for us, something they hadn’t seen, and something they can’t prepare for.”
Jana wasn’t the only player to put up some solid numbers. Wide receiver Justin Buren put up 108 passing yards, while Franklin made two touchdown passes. Quarterback Miles Richardson, despite a shaky start, threw for a respectable 167 yards.
“I think the kids need to prove it to themselves. We feel they have the talent — we wouldn’t recruit them if they didn’t have the talent.”
One could argue that much of this happened in the second half when the opposing team was up 35–3 and with a quarterback struggling through injury. But at least it wasn’t the train wreck that home town fans in the nearly packed Swangard Stadium saw in the first quarter.
Coming off two straight blowout losses, SFU was looking for a much different result in their home and conference opener. It wouldn’t be easy. Humboldt State trounced SFU 57–0 last season. The team currently holds one of Division II’s best offensive players in Ja’Quan Gardner, who led the entire Division II in rushing yards last season.
Humboldt State was also the only team from the GNAC last season to qualify for the NCAA Division II playoffs, before losing in the second round to the eventual national champions, the Northwest Missouri Bearcats. The Lumberjacks were the first GNAC team since the 2009 Central Washington Wildcats to qualify, and fittingly, the Wildcats also fell to the Bearcats in the second round, while the Bearcats went on to be national champions.
And Humboldt lost last week.
The game actually had a decent start for SFU. Richardson made two plays that gained yards. He was sacked on third down, and overthrew when they went for it on the fourth down, but was gifted a first down thanks to a Humboldt pass interference. They followed this with another first down, but SFU struggled to make yardage and kicked the punt.
Not a bad opening drive — but that’s where the fun ended in the first quarter.
The first play on Humboldt’s first drive, Gardner showed why he’s such a threat with an 87-yard run for a touchdown. From then on, until the beginning of the second quarter, SFU’s drives were unfruitful and lasted less than two minutes each.
SFU’s defence found its feet in the second quarter, stopping an HSU drive. The offence didn’t put up points until it was down 35–0, and a field goal was a disappointing end to their first visit in the redzone.
SFU finally achieved its first offensive touchdown of the season in the third quarter, thanks to 30-plus yard plays by both Jana and Buren. Franklin finished the job by receiving a four-yard pass from Richardson.
The fourth quarter was all Jana, with a 14-yard touchdown pass and 52-yard run for SFU’s final touchdown of the night.
In the end, the Clan looked like a much better and more confident team than the one that had entered the game.
“I think the kids need to prove it to themselves,” said Bates. “We feel they have the talent — we wouldn’t recruit them if they didn’t have the talent. They need to show themselves they can do it, and I think tonight there were glimpses of that.
“We’ve got to find the positives, but still understand the reality as we move forward.”
The reality was that it was still a 32-point loss. Richardson was sacked four times, threw two interceptions, and really, threw a few more passes that were lucky not to be interceptions. He struggled with some of the plays as a left-handed quarterback. SFU’s still 0–3 so far, and the team’s been winless since October 2014.
SFU’s got a tough matchup this Saturday taking on Azusa Pacific next week on the road. Azusa defeated Humboldt 38–27 the week before, and is currently 3–0, and 2–0 in the conference, having beaten Central Washington 27–17 Saturday.
But there was hope Saturday. If the second half wasn’t just a mirage — and it very well could be — SFU could be competitive, if not too successful in the win column.