Central football finally on the attack
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While expectations were high for this season, CWU Football has gotten off to a rocky start.
The Wildcats (2-2) began the season with a tough matchup against Portland State and left with a 43-26 loss. Portland State was ranked No. 12 in the Football Championship Subdivision at the time.
Head Coach Ian Shoemaker was quoted after the game by Wildcat Sports as taking the loss as a positive against great competition. He primarily pointed to the elevated play of senior quarterback Justin Lane (321 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, zero interceptions) and senior wide receiver Jesse Zalk (181 receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns)
“Big time players do big things in big games, and that is what we got from Jesse and Justin today,” Shoemaker said. “But it was not a two man show, we had an entire team play their hearts out today and they were a part of that.”
The Wildcats rebounded the next week against Western Oregon, which finished second in the GNAC in 2015, with a 41-20 win. While the offense controlled the time of possession (CWU 36:48 to WOU 23:12), the defense stepped up and only allowed 7 rushing yards while only giving up a single third down conversion (1-12). Coach Shoemaker was quoted after the game by Wildcat Sports as crediting the defense with keeping the game close, while the offense worked out their problems.
“Our defense was rock solid today and gave us time to find our groove on offense,” Shoemaker said. “Once we got things together we started to move the ball and put up points, and our [defense] stepped it up even more in the second half.”
This victory gave CWU a 1-1 record heading into their first home game against Azusa Pacific, ranked No. 16 in Division II at the time. CWU lost 27-17, blowing a 17-13 lead with 6:38 left in the fourth quarter. Their 17 points against Azusa is their season low for points scored, with a poor third down conversion rate (6 of 20) stuttering the offensive flow. Senior quarterback Justin Lane threw three interceptions and acknowledged that his play contributed to the loss.
“We had a rough outing against Azusa,” Lane said, “But I thought we started out pretty hot.”
Through three games, CWU was sitting at a bleak 1-2 record. Coach Shoemaker expressed that the team did not want to be in such a position. Shoemaker said getting first downs on third down (10 for 44) and converting in the red zone (6 touchdowns on 10 attempts) were key contributors to a bad start.
“1-2 is not an exciting place to be,” Shoemaker said. “We think we played good competition. In the games we struggled, third down conversions were a problem. 60% [in the red zone] is not good enough either.”
The defense gave up a lot of points through three games (30 points per game) and forced only four turnovers which were counteracted by four giveaways by the offense. Coach Shoemaker did not expect the defense to be completely acclimated to first year defensive coordinator Scott Power’s defense early on, and expected bumps in the road.
“We’re still in the growth process, for sure,” Shoemaker said, “But I think if you look at average points across the country, [points allowed] are going up in general.”
CWU gave up 13 sacks in three contests while only sacking opposing quarterbacks twice. Quarterback Justin Lane doesn’t believe that the amount of times he’s been brought down is indicative of his offensive line this year.
“I’ll take credit for some of those sacks,” Lane said. “I don’t think that statistic is true to being on them, they’re doing a good job.”
This sentiment was echoed by Coach Shoemaker, whom believes the entire offense is to blame for sacks.
“We have to do a better job protecting the quarterback,” Shoemaker said. “But also making better decisions at quarterback, receiver, and running back.”
The Wildcats appeared to take their next matchup against Dixie State seriously after their rough loss to Azusa, with quarterback Justin Lane calling it a “must-win.”
The Wildcats took control on both offense and defense against Dixie State on Sept. 24, taking a 27-3 lead with 3:58 left in the second quarter, eventually winning 40-18. The Trailblazers wanted to rush the ball frequently, rushing 38 times for only 86 yards on the day (2.2 yards per rush). The defense finally flipped the script on the quarterback pressure, accruing seven sacks and nine tackles for loss.
CWU’s offense racked up 275 rushing yards, including the first collegiate carries for redshirt freshman running back Hasani Childs, freshman running back Sam Richmond, and junior running back Jacob Yordy, who transferred from South Dakota School of Mines.
Quarterback Justin Lane had an efficient game throwing the ball, going nine of 14 for 215 and two touchdowns. The offensive line improved their performance against Dixie State, only giving up one sack.
Coach Shoemaker was quoted after the game as liking the product the Wildcats showed on the field.
“We started out fast and kept things rolling on both sides of the ball,” Shoemaker said. “I am proud of how our team rebounded from last week.”
Now a 2-2 record with a dominating performance on both sides of the ball under their belt, the Wildcats look to get another victory against Simon Fraser (0-4) in Burnaby, B.C. on Oct. 1. Simon Fraser has only won two GNAC games in the past two season, while giving up 58 points per game on defense this season.