Wildcat seniors look to finish last season on top
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As the season changes from fall to winter, seniors on Central Washington University’s football team are looking ahead to their last collegiate game on Saturday.
“It’s surreal,” Uso Olive, senior defensive lineman, said. “Honestly it feels like just yesterday that it was fall camp. It really happened so fast. You take things for granted, and it happened in the blink of an eye.”
Senior safety Max McIntosh shares Olive’s sentiment about how the last game is going to feel.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” McIntosh, who transferred to CWU from Division I school University of Idaho, said. “Obviously, I grew up playing football and it’s all I’ve known since I was a kid. Having it end is bitter sweet. It’s important to me that we end on a win too. I would love to finish out strong. I think one of the hardest parts is that I’ve developed so many great relationships through this whole process and met a lot of good people and life-long friends.”
CWU (6-3 overall, 5-2 GNAC) will face Humboldt State (6-4 overall, 3-4 GNAC) Saturday, who the Wildcats beat 42-17 on Oct. 8 earlier in the season. While CWU dominated the first match-up between the two teams, head coach Ian Shoemaker doesn’t think that takes away from how hard fought this upcoming game should be.
“I think in this league when you’re playing everybody twice, it’s always a challenge regardless of how successful or unsuccessful you were the first time around,” Shoemaker said. “The teams change, they evolve, injuries happen, guys get healthy. [HSU] is a unique challenge, it’s its own game, its own preparation week. I think they’re a good team. I think we can go out and compete with them and hopefully have a similar result. But we’re not anticipating that by any means.”
Tovar Sanchez, senior defensive lineman who owns the CWU record for sacks, is happy that the final game is coming at home.
“It feels good to have our last game be a home game, for the fans and everything,” Sanchez said “It’s good that we’re doing it here and there’s a bunch of us that are seniors, and it’s a good way to go out. They’ve always been a good rivalry, I’m glad they’re our last game. They’re going to come out and compete so it should be a good game.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 41-0 victory over Simon Fraser University, where the team and its players broke several school and conference records. Quarterback Justin Lane broke the school records for passing efficiency in a game (297.9) and yards per attempt in a game (16.1), while wide receiver Jesse Zalk broke five school records, including receiving yards in a game (307), receiving touchdowns (5) and career all-purpose yards (5,076). Zalk’s receiving yards and touchdowns are both GNAC records as well.
Coach Shoemaker knows the play of seniors like Zalk, Sanchez and Lane, players who came to the school long before Shoemaker was hired in 2014, have been integral to the success of the team this year.
“There were growing pains when I first got here, any transition is going to have that,” Shoemaker said. “What you look at though, is that these are the guys that have bought in the most and have lived up to the expectations and are my guys now. They were inherited, but they’ve learned how to do things the way we want them to, they’ve learned how to accept a challenge. These are my guys and I’m excited to see them go out for their last game at Tomlinson Stadium in front of the home crowd.”
The Lumberjacks, who won the GNAC last year, have won three straight after losing to CWU and Azusa Pacific (9-1 overall, 8-0 GNAC) in back-to-back weeks. They are led by junior running back Ja’Quan Gardner, who has more rushing yards (1248) than the next three GNAC leading rushers combined (1246), along with 18 rushing touchdowns.
Uso Olive, who transferred from Division I school University of Wyoming in 2015, says that after CWU and Humboldt State’s previous game this year, he swapped numbers with Gardner to keep in touch throughout the season.
“I talked to Gardner last night,” Olive said. “Me and him shared some back and forth smack talking in the first game, and after the game I shook his hand and got his phone number. Last night I told him that I’ll see him this weekend and he said, ‘Give me some wiggle room’ with the laughing emoji, so it feels good to know he respects our defense.”
Josh Stolz, senior center, thinks the opportunity to beat Humboldt State a second time would be a good way for the seniors to end their collegiate careers, as the team’s victory earlier in the season was their first since 2013 against Humboldt State.
“We feel pretty confident, but we know how good of a team they are,” Stolz said. “They’re a tough group, they play hard. Their defensive group is good; their offense is really good with their running back. We just have to stay focused this week and really execute what we’ve been doing these last couple games.”
Blake Williams-Miller, senior linebacker, says that while winning in front of the home crowd is the goal, making a statement is more important.
“It’s better than being at an away game,” Williams-Miller said. “It’s going to be pretty emotional, but it should be fun to ride another game out with my brothers. We want to show that what happened down [at Humboldt State] wasn’t a fluke or anything, that we’re serious. It’s just another game that we want to come out, compete and get the W.”
Dealing with the emotion of this game is different for every player, as senior quarterback Justin Lane feels he has not dealt with the fact that this is the last game of his football playing career.
“It’s a little weird feeling,” Lane said. “It’s something you only get once, having it be your last game. I don’t know, it hasn’t really hit me yet. Preparing is gonna take my mind off it, but I’m sure once the game hits, fourth quarter, it’ll probably be then. But I want to put us in the best possible position to have a chance [to win].”
The game will start at noon on Saturday, with a special ceremony before kick-off for the seniors.