'Cats Move to 8-1 With 17-10 Victory
MANKATO, Minn. - The Central Washington defense held Minnesota State scoreless for the first three quarters of play, and contained the Mavericks to a season-low 10 points as the 17th-ranked Wildcats held on for a 17-10 North Central Conference football victory at Blakeslee Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats, ranked fourth in the NCAA Division II Northwest Region, have now won seven straight games and are now 8-1 overall. In position for the program's second-ever NCAA postseason berth, Central also remains one game back of the NCC lead with a 6-1 league record entering their final game of the 2007 season. Minnesota State is now 4-6 overall and 2-5 in NCC play.
Central had four takeaways -- all interceptions -- and held the Mavericks without any points until the 13:02 mark in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats also kept Minnesota State without positive rushing yards, as MSU had minus-6 yards on the ground.
In a game that featured the top two passing quarterbacks in the North Central Conference in Minnesota State's Ben King and Central Washington's Mike Reilly (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS), it was each team's defense that stood out throughout, especially early in the contest. Neither team scored on its first possession, but Central embarked on the longest drive of the day (by distance) on its second possession. Senior Johnny Lopez (Federal Way, Wash./John F. Kennedy HS) capped the 13-play, 80-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to give the Wildcats a 7-0 lead with just under five minutes left in the opening quarter.
As the remainder of the first half unfolded, the defenses again highlighted play. Central forced Minnesota State to turn the ball over on downs on its next two series after the touchdown, while the Mavericks capitalized on a missed 51-yard field goal by the Wildcats' Garrett Rolsma (University Place, Wash./Curtis HS). The two teams then traded punts before Minnesota State intercepted Reilly midway through the second quarter. However, despite beginning with possession at the Central 22, MSU missed a 37-yard field goal. Punts were the story the rest of the quarter until the final minute, when Jerome Williams (Seattle, Wash./Ballard HS) picked off King deep in Maverick territory with 22 seconds left. After back-to-back incompletions from the 9-yard line, Reilly connected with sophomore Brandon Stout (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep) for a touchdown with six seconds left in the half to give the Wildcats a 14-0 halftime edge.
The second half began inauspiciously for the Wildcats, as Williams fumbled the opening kickoff deep in his own territory. However, the Central defense stepped up once again, as sophomore linebacker Buddy Wood (Chattaroy, Wash./Riverside HS) intercepted King and scampered 37 yards on the run-back to return possession to the Wildcats. That drive was short-lived, though, as Lopez coughed up the football at the Minnesota State 30 on Central's second play following the interception.
Neither team scored again until the next CWU possession, when Rolsma booted a 20-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 77-yard drive that ate up more than four minutes of clock.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Le (Lacey, Wash./Timberline HS) had his first career interception on the next series, but Central was unable to pick up a first down and Rolsma punted back to the Mavericks. Minnesota State then opened the fourth quarter with its first points of the afternoon -- a 22-yard field goal by Jason Tompkins.
The Wildcat offense was unable to accomplish much during the fourth quarter, punting on a three-and-out on its first drive and turning the ball over on Reilly's second interception of the contest. However, Central also earned its third takeaway of the half when junior Brandon Kennedy (Spokane, Wash./Gonzaga Prep) picked off King for his 12th career interception midway through the period.
Minnesota State made the game interesting in the closing minutes, as Julian Phipps scored on a one-yard carry with 3:58 left to make it a one-touchdown differential at 17-10. A misplayed kickoff nearly resulted in another Wildcat turnover on the next play, but Central was able to maintain possession and begin to drive down the field. A 16-yard pass play from Reilly to Chris Rohrbach (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) on third-and-six kept the possession alive for the Wildcats, forcing Minnesota State to burn all of its timeouts on the final drive. A second third-down completion to Rohrbach, this time for nine yards, helped preserve the victory for CWU, as they ran out the clock.
Central was outgained in total offense by a 366-321 margin, as King completed 39 passes in a conference-record 68 attempts for 372 yards. Reilly countered with a season-low 168 yards through the air, completing just 14 of 33 passes with two interceptions. Lopez became the focal point of the Wildcat offense down the stretch, finishing with his second-best single-game performance of 159 rushing yards on 27 carries. Central racked up 153 yards on the ground.
Wood, the reigning NCC Defensive Player of the Week, finished with 11 more tackles to up his team-leading total to 83 on the season. Senior Chris Hemphill (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra HS) had a career-best day, adding 10 tackles, while Le added nine tackles. Junior Mitch Reffett (Moses Lake, Wash.) anchored Central's pressure on King, finishing with two of the team's three quarterback sacks on the afternoon.
Eight different receivers had at least one pass reception for Minnesota State, led by Tory Chappell with 10 receptions and by Damian Turner with 111 receiving yards. The Mavericks were led defensively by Chris Brunkhorst, who finished with 12 tackles.
Central Washington returns home for Senior Day next Saturday (Nov. 10) for a noon (PST) kickoff against conference leader Nebraska-Omaha (9-0, 7-0 NCC). A Wildcat victory over the Mavericks would give Central a share of the NCC championship in the league's final season.