Wildcats Secure First NCC Win, Blow Past Minnesota Duluth 43-21
ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- The Central Washington defense held Minnesota Duluth to 31 rushing yards and 251 yards of total offense, and the Wildcat offense totaled a season-high 459 yards of its own in posting a 43-21 North Central Conference football victory over the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon at a windy Tomlinson Stadium.
The Wildcats improved to 2-1 on the year in earning their first NCC win of the campaign (1-1). Minnesota Duluth suffered its third straight loss, falling to 1-3 (0-2 NCC).
CWU senior Bret Stray (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline HS) spearheaded Central's defensive effort on Saturday, totaling six tackles. Included among his stops were four tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks, and the Wildcats' outside linebacker also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
The Wildcats never trailed in the contest, scoring on their second possession on a 21-yard field goal by sophomore Garrett Rolsma (University Place, Wash./Curtis HS). Rolsma's boot, which was the first of three on the day, capped a 14-play, 58-yard drive that spanned 5:21.
The lead was extended to 10-0 late in the first quarter after junior Mike Reilly (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS) hooked up with senior Chris Rohrbach (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) on a 58-yard pass play with 27 seconds to go in the opening period.
Minnesota Duluth answered on its next possession, as Dennis Carter caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Ted Schlafke at the 12:57 mark. Britt Baumann's extra point cut Central's lead to 10-7.
Central traded touchdowns with the Bulldogs on each team's next possession. The Wildcats scored on a 38-yard pass from Reilly to sophomore Johnny Spevak (Edgewood, Wash./Puyallup HS), while Minnesota Duluth kept it at a three-point margin after a four-yard scoring run by Schlafke with 5:24 left before halftime.
The two squads traded interceptions the next time down the field, as Reilly was picked off as the Wildcats drove deep into Bulldogs territory. Stanley Edouard stepped in front of Reilly's pass attempt into the end zone, snapping a streak of 138 consecutive pass attempts without an interception dating back to last season. Central's defense responded on UMD's third play of the ensuing drive, as junior Nate Pirak (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) scooped up his career interception to return possession to the Wildcats at the Bulldogs' 17.
Rolsma then capped the first half with a 28-yard field goal as time expired to give Central Washington a 20-14 lead at the break.
The second half belonged to the Wildcats on both ends of the field, as the defense contained Minnesota Duluth while scoring points of its own. After Reilly connected with sophomore Brandon Stout (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep) on an 11-yard pass, the Central defense got on the scoreboard. Stray forced a Schlafke fumble, which senior captain Chris Scrupps (Odessa, Wash.) corralled and returned 10 yards for his first collegiate touchdown and a 33-14 lead.
Rolsma added a career-long 45-yard field goal late in the third quarter, making him the first CWU player since Nov. 16, 1991 with three made field goals in the same game (Darrell Roulst vs. Western Washington).
Central finished its scoring on the first drive of the fourth quarter, with the Reilly-to-Spevak combination adding an insurance touchdown on a 20-yard play.
Minnesota Duluth scored once more, on its next drive, as Schlafke found Carter on a four-yard play to make it a 22-point game at the 8:42 mark. Neither team would score the rest of the way, as Central turned predominantly to a rushing attack and the Bulldogs were turned over on downs on their final two sequences.
Central dominated in several statistical categories, including time of possession (37:23 to 22:37) and takeaways (3-1). The Wildcats also converted 11 of 20 third-down conversions, and were successful on both of their fourth-down tries and making all three field goals in the contest.
Individually, Central had another solid performance from Reilly at quarterback. The junior was 24 for 35 for 325 yards and a season-high four touchdowns. The Wildcats also had a 100-yard rusher in Johnny Lopez (Federal Way, Wash./John F. Kennedy HS), who netted an even 100 yards on 26 carries. The CWU receiving corps also had a strong and balanced day, as Spevak and Rohrbach each broke the 100-yard barrier with 107 and 103 yards, respectively. Stout, who made his 2007 debut, had a breakout game with six catches for 68 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Stray anchored a Wildcat defense that sacked Schlafke six times and held the Bulldogs' leading rusher to a minus-16 on the ground. Pirak and fellow junior Jon Rogers (North Pole, Alaska/Ben Eielson HS) both had career-best days with 12 tackles apiece.
Minnesota Duluth, which has now lost 10 of 12 games played all-time in the program's history when flying to its opposition, saw Schlafke complete 30 of 41 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Carter was his top target with seven receptions for 43 yards and two scores. Brandon Wood was the Bulldogs' defensive leader with 11 total tackles and two tackles for loss.
Central Washington will return to the road next Saturday to face Saint Cloud State (3-1, 0-1 NCC) at 6 p.m. CDT (4 p.m. PDT). The Wildcats will then host nationally-ranked South Dakota in two weeks (Oct. 6) at Tomlinson Stadium.