Things were looking up for the Clan at halftime. The early morning rain had cleared just in time for kickoff. Despite a pick-six thrown by quarterback Miles Richardson just 58 seconds in, SFU was down only 12–7 thanks to a defence that had completely stopped the run game (Western Oregon had -40 rushing yards at halftime).
There was an energy, an excitement, at Swangard Stadium that hadn’t been there all season. For the first time, fans were seeing a team that could win the game and, if play kept up, a team that should win.
Even the offence was moving the ball, over doubling the Wolves’ yard totals 164–72, with a rare offensive touchdown to show for it. Thanks to the Wolves missing twice on two-point conversions, SFU was in a position to not just tie Western Oregon on the next touchdown, but to take the lead.
And that they did. On defence, junior linebacker Trevor Kemp forced a Western Oregon fumble at the Wolves’ 49-yard, which through a combination of the Western Oregon player having the ball slip out of his hands as he tried to recover the fumble and a series of bounces, saw the ball land on the three-yard line, which sophomore linebacker Gabe Lopes easily scooped up and ran in for a touchdown.
For only the second time this season, the Clan had the lead — the first time they achieved it after falling behind. They were up 13–12 after a failed two-point conversion.
But it seems that for this team, all good things must come to an end.
Western Oregon scored on both of its next two drives, to take the lead 27–13. By the time the day was done, the final score was 40–13. What looked like it could have been SFU’s first win wasn’t even SFU’s best loss. (Marginally, though: the 27-point loss was one more point than SFU’s previous 33–7 loss to Western Oregon.)
“We were what we are all year: we do some really good things and we do some things that hurt us,” said head coach Kelly Bates.
The most disappointing part of the game was that it was largely the defence that fell apart in the second half. After looking so full of promise all season, and after such a great first half — a legitimately great first half, not just relative to the rest of the game — they gave up 28 points. This was the second worst second-half performance all season.
“[Western Oregon] changed up some adjustments and picked up what we’re doing [in the second half], but you’ve also got to understand that our biggest issue is our size. I mean, we’ve got a 265-lb nose guard. And the team we’re playing against has two 320-lb guards,” said Bates. “We wear down, and that’s been our issue all year — we wear down and we make mental mistakes.”
While the offence put up only one score, it was their best game all year. The offensive line, which for much of the year just couldn’t give SFU’s quarterbacks much space to make plays, was much more effective tonight, with Bates saying, “They’ve done a better job than they’ve done all year.”
For 14 seniors, it marked their last game.
“I’m just going to miss all the guys, so that’s kind of disappointing. I’ve built some pretty strong bonds with a lot of the players, so I’m going to miss them a lot,” said redshirt-senior linebacker Jordan Herdman. “Knowing it was my last game, I wanted to leave it all on the field, and I felt like I did that.”
With that, SFU is losing a lot of talent. Running back Ante Litre, who has been one of the most consistent players on offence, and Felix Gacusana on the offensive line, to name a few.
“We wear down, and that’s been our issue all year — we wear down and we make mental mistakes”
Of course, you can’t forget the Herdman brothers. Both Herdmans are likely to be impact CFL players. Despite being unranked on the initial CFL Draft 2017 rankings, some feel that Jordan could be a first overall pick in the CFL Draft.
“I’m very excited. I’m very, very excited to play at the next level. I’m looking at going into the NFL. I don’t know how far I’ll take it, but I’ll take it as far as I can go,” said Jordan, who will probably have a chance to try for an NFL free-agent contract.
But on a defence that made so much progress this season, will SFU be able to keep that momentum after losing the Herdmans?
“That’s the trick of college football, you’ve always got to plug holes,” said Bates. “We’re behind the eight ball to begin with, just based on the past history up here, the last four or five years. We’re trying to correct that. Are you ever going to replace the seniors you had up here? No, you’re not going to replace them just like that, just like we couldn’t replace the 14 from last year.
“It all starts with recruiting. That’s what we do 24/7, 365 days a year. We’ll lick our wounds tonight, deal with this game, and tomorrow it’s back to the grind and trying to get this team ready next year, trying to improve upon everything we’ve done this year,” he explained. “Obviously, we didn’t do what we wanted to do, but coming into this year I knew that it was probably going to be a step back. We have 37 new guys on the roster of 70 some guys, so that is what it is. Now that process continues and we continue to build and try to get bigger, faster, stronger, better.”
One area that you can see potential in is the receivers.
“I think our receiving core was excellent this year, I mean, I think we have tremendous potential. Gavin [Cobb], Rysen [John], and Nathanael Durkan, those three you got to see on the field here and there, and heck they’re young. They’re not as physically mature as the guys they’re playing against yet,” said Bates. “But you’re seeing glimpses of what they can become.”
Cobb was one of the best players to watch on the offence, consistently looking impressive, and putting up good numbers on the kick return, averaging 98.8 yards in the nine games he played in that role. John put up his first touchdown in Saturday’s game.
Redshirt Noah Samsen, Bates said, “might end up being the best of all of them.”
But for now, SFU is 0–10 on the season, with the second straight winless season, after losing the 23rd consecutive game dating back to 2014. This senior class has only seen five wins in their four seasons with the team.
It’s going to take a lot of hard work from both the players and the coaching staff to see that the next group of seniors gets some wins, and to build on this season.
IN OTHER NEWS: For the second year in a row, a Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) football team has made the playoffs, as the Azusa Pacific Cougars were announced as having made the cut with an 8–0 conference record and 9–2 overall record. Prior to Humboldt State making it last year, a GNAC team hadn’t made the playoffs since the 2009 Central Washington Wildcats (featuring future BC Lions Adam Bighill). Time will tell if the Cougars follow the 2009 Wildcats and the 2015 Lumberjacks in winning in the first round, only to lose to Northwest Missouri State in the second round. Northwest Missouri State went on to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II national championship.