In a mostly good first half, four 40-yard-plus passes against — including three that counted for a touchdown — led to SFU football’s downfall Saturday afternoon.
“There were four big plays in the first half where we had defenders in place to make a play and just were unable to make a play on the ball,” explained head coach Kelly Bates.
“I guess the good, if there’s a silver lining, is our guys were in the right spots, we just weren’t able to make a play when we needed to.”
To open the game, SFU’s offence put up a solid opening drive. Quarterback Miles Richardson threw a seven-yard pass to receiver Gavin Cobb in the first play of the game. Then two consecutive 20-yard-plus plays — running back Jalen Jana rushed it 23 yards, while Justin Buren received a 24-yard pass.
SFU had made it to Central Washington’s 17-yard line. They were unable to make up any more yardage, and had to kick a 40-yard field goal from the 23-yard line — they missed.
No points, but a solid start for an offence that has struggled all season.
But on Central Washington’s first play, Jesse Zalk received a 77-yard pass from quarterback Justin Lane. With that, they were up 7–0 — the seventh time in nine games that SFU surrendered a touchdown on the opposing team’s opening drive.
“They’re tough,” said Bates of those long passing plays allowed. “They really crush you from a psychological standpoint.”
The Clan didn’t allow another point in the first quarter — the next four drives they didn’t even allow a first down. On Central Washington’s next drive, SFU linebacker Justin Herdman forced a fumble which SFU’s Jordan Pugh recovered. In the fourth of those defensive stands, the Wildcats only needed five yards because of an SFU penalty, but were unable to crack the Clan defence.
Neither team allowed much on the ground game — there were only 99 rushing yards total, and SFU only allowed 67.
But on Central Washington’s first drive of the second half, they were once again able to exploit SFU’s defence on the passing game. A 43-yard and a 44-yard pass led to the Wildcats’ second touchdown.
By the end of the first half, SFU was down 27–0, despite a defensively solid first quarter.
In the third quarter, the Clan didn’t surrender a score, thanks to a Central Washington fumble recovered by Justin Herdman on the goal line.
The fourth quarter saw the Wildcats put up 14 more points. One touchdown came when a blocked punt put Central Washington on SFU’s 32-yard line, and they worked their way to the end zone. The other saw Central Washington again exploit the passing defence, needing only one play — a 57-yard touchdown pass.
“As always, the kids played very hard, their effort is never in question,” said Bates.
While it was another tough day on the scoreboard and the win column, a few good things were hidden by the 41-point loss.
The offence has had trouble, to say the least, but there’s been a consistency to the defence.
On seven drives, the Clan held the Wildcats without a first down.
Cobb had another good week on special teams with 141 yards on kickoff returns. Buren put up 99 receiving yards to lead the team on offence.
The Herdmans were solid as usual, with Jordan putting up seven tackles, while Justin put up eight and helped force two fumbles.
SATURDAY: The Clan has one more opportunity to get in the win column in 2016, and it’s at home this Saturday.
“[I] talk[ed] to the guys after the game and I want them to realize that there’s 14 seniors on this team that have one more opportunity to win a game this year, and every decision we make moving forward this week should keep that in mind, and these 14 seniors deserve a better outcome in their last game,” said Bates. “It really comes down to making sure we give our kids a good chance to win this last game.
“What’s impressive to me is that [the seniors] never wavered in their work effort, they’ve never wavered in their commitment to do whatever they can, even when they know we’re undersized, undermanned, underpowered, they continue to come out every day with an amazing attitude and work their butts off. That’s a testament to them and to their parents and people they’ve become.”
If there’s a team that SFU can win against, it’s Western Oregon.
The team sits fourth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 2–5 conference record and 3–6 overall. Aside from SFU, they have the worst scoring offence — putting up 20.7 points per game — and the worst scoring defence — allowing 35.1 points per game.
In their matchup earlier this season, SFU put up a good defensive performance, allowing only 13 points in the first half. SFU’s offence was stifled — the only score coming on a pick-six by the defence — and they lost 33–7.
But it goes without saying, it will be tough for SFU. The Clan has only scored in the double-digits twice, and while the defence has looked good, the team still allows on average 52 points per game. Their lowest score against is the aforementioned 33.
It’s going to be an important one for the SFU team, which Bates said feels a strong rivalry with Western Oregon.
“They’re a very physical team that come to play with their lunch buckets to play hard all day,” he said of Western Oregon.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. at Swangard Stadium.