Central Defense Pitches Shutout in Win over St. Cloud State
SAINT CLOUD, Minn. - Senior running back Johnny Lopez (Federal Way, Wash./John F. Kennedy HS) ran for a career-high 182 yards on 24 carries, and the Central Washington defense forced Saint Cloud State into six turnovers in posting the Wildcats' second football shutout of the 2007 season, 29-0, on Saturday night at Husky Stadium.
Central, which was ranked 25th in this week's D2football.com poll and remained among "others receiving votes" by the American Football Coaches Association, earned its second straight North Central Conference win to improve to 2-1 in NCC play and 3-1 overall. Saint Cloud State dropped its second consecutive contest by shutout, falling to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the NCC.
Lopez highlighted a night on which the Wildcat offense finished with 433 yards of total offense. Included among that total was a season-high 247 yards on the ground, which marked the first time in nearly two seasons that CWU went over the 200-yard mark for rushing offense in a single game.
Lopez scored the game's first points on the game's opening possession, capping a nine-play, 72-yard drive with a five-yard scoring run to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead. It marked the first time this season that Central scored on its opening possession of the game.
Neither team accomplished much offensively in the second quarter, as the Wildcats forced Saint Cloud State into a two punts and two fumbles in the quarter. Central managed field goals on its first and last possessions of the period, as sophomore Garrett Rolsma (University Place, Wash./Curtis HS) drilled attempts of 21 and 33 yards to put CWU in front 13-0 at the half.
After the intermission, the Wildcats and Huskies traded possessions right out of the chute. Central prevented Saint Cloud State from picking up a first down on either of the Huskies' first two drives, and the Wildcats kept SCSU off the scoreboard thanks to an interception by senior Chris Hemphill (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra HS) -- the first of two for him on the night -- and by forcing Saint Cloud State to turn the ball over on downs late in the period.
Central scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to finish the third quarter and open the fourth. Junior quarterback Mike Reilly (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS) found tight end Jared Bronson (Kent, Wash./Thomas Jefferson HS) on a 23-yard pass play at the 2:45 mark of the third to give the Wildcats a 19-0 lead, as Central's two-point conversion attempt failed. Then, on the opening play of the fourth quarter, Lopez scampered 59 yards down the field for his second touchdown of the game, and Rolsma's extra point gave CWU a commanding 26-0 advantage.
Rolsma then capped the game's scoring later in the fourth quarter, tacking on his third field goal of the game from 33 yards out on Central's next series.
The Wildcat defense was challenged late in the contest by Saint Cloud State in its effort for the shutout. However, Central rose to the challenge, forcing a fumble to thwart an 11-play, 72-yard drive by the Huskies into the red zone, and the Wildcats' special teams later forced and recovered a fumble on a Rolsma punt that enabled CWU to retain possession. Then, in the final minute as Saint Cloud State was driving down the field to the Wildcat 20 yard line, Central forced the Huskies into an incompletion and capped the shutout effort with a quarterback sack.
Central Washington finished with six takeaways while turning the ball over just once. The Wildcats also had a significant advantage in total offense (433-301) and were able to hold the Huskies to just 3 for 15 on third-down conversions. Central was successful on 8 of its 16 third-down opportunities, and held more than a seven-minute advantage in time of possession.
In addition to Lopez's efforts on the ground, true freshman Micah Lape (Vancouver, Wash./Slyview HS) had a career-high 52 yards on 16 carries. Reilly completed 14 of 25 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown, marking the first time this season and just the fourth time in 25 career games that the Wildcats' signal caller had thrown for fewer than 200 yards in a game.
Senior Chris Rohrbach (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) was the favorite pass-catching target on a balanced receiving night for the Wildcats, as he finished with five receptions for 70 yards.
Hemphill sparked a balanced defensive effort, although he had just two tackles in addition to his pair of interceptions. Junior cornerback Brandon Kennedy (Spokane, Wash./Gonzaga Prep), and linebackers Nate Pirak (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) and Buddy Wood (Chattaroy, Wash./Riverside HS) were all credited with a team-high six tackles each, while three other Central defenders had five stops apiece. Four different Wildcats -- Justin Gran (Buckley, Wash./White River HS), Josh Chance (Battle Ground, Wash.), Jason Engelbrecht (Woodinville, Wash.), and Durrell Moss (Orange, Calif.) -- were all credited with fumble recoveries off Saint Cloud State turnovers, with Gran's and Moss' coming as part of the special teams squad.
Saint Cloud State totaled 242 passing yards, as quarterbacks Jake Kranz and Jon Quesnel combined to go 19 of 39 on the night. Fred Williams was the game's top receiver overall with seven receptions for 113 yards.
Central Washington will look to keep its win streak alive next week, returning home to Tomlinson Stadium to face nationally-ranked South Dakota. The game between the Wildcats and Coyotes is slated for a 1 p.m. (PDT) kickoff.