Wildcats Fall at HomePosted: Updated:
ELLENSBURG, Wash. - Five plays of 60 or more yards by Nebraska-Omaha foiled Central Washington's bid for a share of the North Central Conference football championship, and the visiting Mavericks defeated the Wildcats, 59-21, in the regular-season finale on Saturday afternoon at Tomlinson Stadium.
Central, ranked fourth in this week's NCAA Division II Northwest Region poll, finished the regular season with an 8-2 overall record and third in the NCC standings with a 6-2 league record. Nebraska-Omaha, the region's top-ranked team, clinched the NCC title -- its fourth straight league title -- and the Mavericks finish the regular season with a 10-0 record (8-0 NCC).
The Wildcats started the game strong on defense, forcing the Mavericks to a three-and-out on the opening possession. However, Central turned the ball over on downs on its opening drive after marching into UNO territory, as Johnny Spevak (Edgewood, Wash./Puyallup HS) was sacked on a fourth-down play on which the Wildcats had set up for a 48-yard field goal. Nebraska-Omaha answered with a field goal on its next time down the field, using nearly six minutes of game clock, and taking a 3-0 lead into the second quarter.
Central's first possession of the second period resulted uncharacteristically, as junior quarterback Mike Reilly (Kalispell, Mont./Flathead HS), who on Friday was named a candidate for the Harlon Hill Trophy as Division II's top player, was intercepted by Reed Taylor. Nebraska-Omaha capitalized, scoring on a seven-play, 59-yard drive as running back Brian McNeill, also a Harlon Hill candidate, scored from 14 yards out.
The Wildcat offense wasn't able to get much going on its next possession after McNeill's touchdown, gaining just 14 yards before punting. The Mavericks then needed just two plays before Nate Wurth scored on an 81-yard rushing play to put UNO in front 17-0. Central then turned the ball over again its next time with possession, as senior Johnny Lopez (Federal Way, Wash./John F. Kennedy HS) fumbled inside his own five-yard line. The Mavericks again took advantage, with quarterback Zach Miller scoring on the quarterback keeper to make it a 24-0 count.
After the 24-point halftime score, both teams' offenses scored early in the third quarter. Nebraska-Omaha pushed the lead to 31-0 after a 35-yard pass from Miller to David Carey -- one of just three completions in six attempts by the Mavericks on Saturday. The Wildcats finally got on the scoreboard their next time down the field, as Reilly and Spevak connected on a four-yard pass play at the 5:20 mark. Central then scored again after recovering a UNO fumble, with Reilly picking up a one-yard touchdown run of his own to bring CWU to within 31-14. That's as close as Central would get, however, as Keith Eloi returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown with 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
Nebraska-Omaha added two big scoring runs and a long kickoff return to set up another score in the fourth quarter. Wurth had a 60-yard run with 10:20 remaining, and McNeill added an 80-yard scamper within the final five minutes, with the latter coming on the first play from scrimmage after Reilly and Spevak had connected on a five-yard score for CWU. Robert Wesley, a backup tailback, then capped the game's scoring with a one-yard run at the 2:04 mark.
Central Washington had a commanding advantage in first downs, with 24 to the Mavericks' 13, but the Wildcats were plagued by 10 total sacks by the UNO defense. CWU finished with just 315 yards of offense, including only 23 on the ground, while the Mavericks were exactly 100 yards better overall with 415 yards of total offense.
Reilly completed 29 of 46 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns for CWU, but he was also picked off twice. He also became just the third player in Central history with 8,000 or more career passing yards on his final drive of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Spevak caught eight passes for 93 yards and two scores, while senior Chris Rohrbach (Edmonds, Wash./Meadowdale HS) had six catches for 78 yards in his final regular-season game.
Lopez, who finished with just 44 yards on 15 carries, became the 10th player in school history with 1,000 or more rushing yards in a season.
Nebraska-Omaha was led offensively by the tandem of McNeill and Wurth, who combined to run for 315 yards and four touchdowns on just 27 carries. McNeill had three more rushing yards (159) than Wurth (156), while Miller totaled 32 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Jacob Skow anchored the UNO defense with 10 tackles, including 3 1/2 quarterback sacks. Jeff Souder led the Mavericks with 11 total tackles and a fumble return of 44 yards.
Central's defense was again led by sophomore linebacker Buddy Wood (Chattaroy, Wash./Riverside HS) with nine tackles, while senior Bret Stray (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline HS) finished with seven tackles in his final regular-season game.
Central Washington will await its postseason fate with the announcement of the NCAA playoff field on Sunday morning at approximately 8:30 a.m. (PST). Information on the Wildcats' postseason status will be made available online at www.wildcatsports.com as soon as it becomes available.