Central Rally Falls Short at North Dakota
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Central Washington overcame a pair of 14-point deficits, twice tying the score, but North Dakota scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 2:18 to go and the visiting Wildcats fell, 35-28, to the second-ranked Fighting Sioux in the North Central Conference football opener for both teams on Saturday afternoon at the Alerus Center.
The Wildcats, who were listed among others receiving votes in this week's American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II poll this week, fell to 1-1. North Dakota remained undefeated and improved to 3-0.
In a game featuring 1,026 yards of total offense between the two teams, Central Washington finished with 447 of those yards. Junior quarterback Mike Reilly (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS) turned in yet another stellar offensive performance, totaling 340 yards and completing a career-high 32 passes against the Fighting Sioux. He also helped engineer the second-half effort, picking up 254 of his passing yards after the halftime intermission.
Central fell behind on the game's opening possession, as North Dakota marched down the field in the opening minute. Running back Ryan Chappell scored the first of his two touchdowns at the 14:06 mark on a 37-yard run. He later added a 33-yard rushing score on the Fighting Sioux's third possession as Central Washington fell behind 14-0.
The Wildcats stormed back on their third offensive sequence, as Reilly connected with senior Chris Rohrbach (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) on a two-yard pass play with 1:35 to go in the first quarter, cutting their deficit in half at 14-7.
"I was excited because we never gave up," CWU head coach Beau Baldwin said. "There were opportunities to where it could have gotten out of hand -- it was good to see us stay in the game."
After neither team scored in the second quarter, North Dakota regained a 14-point advantage on its first drive of the third quarter. Weston Dressler, the Fighting Sioux's receiving and return specialist, reeled in a 45-yard pass from quarterback Danny Freund, and Brandon Hellevang's extra point gave UND a 21-7 edge.
Central responded late in the third quarter, marching its way down the field and picking up a six-yard scoring pass from Reilly to Johnny Spevak (Edgewood, Wash./Puyallup HS) at the 3:25 mark. The Wildcats then tied the game just six minutes later, as Reilly hooked up with junior tight end Jared Bronson (Kent, Wash./Thomas Jefferson HS) on a 83-yard scoring pass play over the middle, with sophomore Garrett Rolsma's (University Place, Wash./Curtis HS) extra point tying the score for the first time in the contest at 21 apiece. For Bronson, the former University of Washington player, it was his first collegiate touchdown with the Wildcats and was Central's longest offensive play from scrimmage since the 2004 season opener at Carroll (Mont.).
UND took a 28-21 lead after Freund and Dressler connected on a second scoring play with 7:10 to go in the contest. CWU countered once again, however, as a four-yard run by senior Johnny Lopez (Federal Way, Wash./John F. Kennedy HS) with 3:59 remaining forced the game's second tie.
Like a true heavyweight battle, North Dakota had a final answer of its own. The Fighting Sioux wasted little time going down the field, as a quick drive, highlighted by Chappell's 59-yard run to the Central 11-yard line, was capped by Brandon Brady's one-yard run. Brady had a touchdown chance thwarted earlier in the contest as he fumbled the ball to the Wildcats on an attempt at the end zone.
"North Dakota is a tremendous offensive team," Baldwin exclaimed. "They change things up with shifts and motions, and try to get you off balance there. (Running back Ryan) Chappell has tremendous ability to make people miss, and has good speed."
The Wildcats had one final opportunity to tie or, perhaps, win the game. Freshman Micah Lape (Vancouver, Wash./Skyview HS) jumpstarted Central's final possession with a 50-yard kickoff return, and CWU was driving into North Dakota territory with the ball inside the Fighting Sioux's 40-yard line. However, after gaining one first down on the possession, the Wildcats found themselves with a fourth-and-16 play but were unable to convert.
Reilly threw for over 200 yards for the 20th time in 23 career appearances, and surpassed the 300-yard plateau for the sixth time. Spevak was his favorite target once again, totaling 10 catches for 90 yards. Senior Charles Smith (Lemon Grove, Calif./Helix HS) had seven catches for 55 yards, while Bronson ended up with career-highs of six receptions and 121 receiving yards.
"Offensively, although we went through a lull in the second quarter, we stayed with it," Baldwin explained. "We changed things up a bit, and just kept competing. Guys stepped up and made plays -- (North Dakota) is a tough team and they rely on their pressure. The offensive line did a great job protecting and giving us a shot."
The Wildcats, who did not allow a quarterback sack in last Saturday's season-opening win over Humboldt State, surrendered three sacks in the first half of Saturday's contest against North Dakota. However, after some halftime adjustments that included the implementation of a no-huddle offense midway through the second half, Central surrendered just one sack in the final 30 minutes.
Central Washington finished the contest with a seven-minute advantage in time of possession (33:32 to 26:28), and the Wildcats picked up more first downs (25) than did the Fighting Sioux (22).
North Dakota surpassed the 500-yard mark (579) in total offense for the third time in as many games to start the season. Chappell spearheaded the Fighting Sioux's performance at the offensive end, setting a new UND single-game rushing record with 306 yards on 28 total carries. One hundred eight-seven of his yards came in the first half, while Dressler was also a potent force for the Fighting Sioux, netting 183 receiving yards, 95 yards in kick returns, and 19 yards in punt returns.
Defensively, linebackers Nate Pirak (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) and Buddy Wood (Chattaroy, Wash./Riverside HS) tied for team-leading honors with eight tackles each for the Wildcats. Pirak also forced both North Dakota fumbles in the contest, while Wood was credited with Central's lone tackle for loss in the contest. Senior Chris Hemphill (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra HS) also had an interception and 13-yard return for CWU.
Central will return home next Saturday (Sept. 22) to face Minnesota Duluth at Tomlinson Stadium. The Wildcats and Bulldogs have played just once previously, with UMD winning 31-25 in a North Central Conference game at Duluth last season. Kickoff for next Saturday's contest is slated for 1 p.m. (PDT).