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Wildcats escape late WOU rally

Scott Herman, Staff Reporter - November 6, 2012

Just when it appeared that Central would be knocked flat on their back by Western Oregon, Anthony Spain caught the game-winning touchdown while laying flat on his.

A few game late game theatrics, including Spain’s miraculous grab, helped the Wildcats hold on to dispatch the Wolves 36-32 and keep their hopes for a share of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference title alive.

The victory bumps Central’s record to 6-3 in the conference, and puts them in a tie for first place heading into the last week of the regular season. Humboldt State University stood alone atop the week nine standings, but a loss to Simon Fraser University on Saturday collapsed their only breathing room.

Two false start penalties put Central’s offense in reverse early on but the Wildcats quickly settled down; senior quarterback Ryan Robertson connected on his first 11 passes and drove the ball deep into the Wolves territory to set up the game’s first score. Senior running back Demetrius Sumler capped off the drive after plunging into the end zone from four yards, putting the Wildcats up with five minutes remaining in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, senior kicker Sean Davis tacked on a field goal from 32 yards out, increasing CWU’s lead to10-0. After Western Oregon connected on a 38-yard field goal of their own, Robertson commandeered yet another scoring drive, this time connecting with senior receiver Tavoy Moore over the middle for a 12-yard touchdown. Moore was Robertson’s favorite target on the afternoon, finishing the contest with 9 catches for 63 yards and one touchdown.

With only 29 seconds left to play in the first half, Western Oregon was forced to try and run out the clock, stuck on their own 10-yard line. On the Wolves’ first play, freshman defensive end Tovar Sanchez ripped the ball from Wolves running back Kenneth Haynes and senior linebacker Louie Bruketta recovered. The fumble recovery quickly turned into points, setting up a rushing touchdown for Robertson three plays later. Robertson’s score gave the Wildcats a 24-3 lead entering half-time.

Western Oregon quickly responded with some offense of their own in the third quarter, when quarterback Ryan Bergman connected with wide receiver Royce Spencer for a one-yard touchdown on their next drive. Central later blocked a WOU punt that tumbled through the back of the end zone for a safety. Davis hit another field goal before the quarter ran out, putting Central in the driver’s seat at 29-10.

But it was during the fourth quarter when it appeared the Wildcat’s gas tank was nearing empty, or perhaps it was because the Wolves finally filled theirs. Bergmann found Spencer again in the end zone, this time on six yard receiving touchdown, closing the gap to 29-17. Central’s ensuing drive stalled and after a delay of game penalty on the Wildcats, WOU’s Lucas Gonsalves returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown. An echo of groans from the Wildcats crowd rang out in response, as the Wolves had fought back to close the gap to only a touchdown, down just 29-24 with just over nine minutes remaining.

Central’s offense was again stopped by a rejuvenated WOU defense, who carried their momentum over to the offense. The Wolves perfectly executed a trick half back pass, when freshman running back Joe Harris fooled Central’s secondary and hit a wide-open Antoinne Wafer for the go-ahead score. With only six minutes left in the game, the Wolves had sizable momentum after rattling off 22 unanswered points.

However, a combined effort from Robertson and Todd allowed the Wildcats to march down the field on one of their final drives of the game. On 2nd and two and in the Wolves red zone, Robertson chose to audible away from the called play, choosing instead to pass to Spain, who was alone in the corner of the end zone. During his route, Spain slipped and fell to his back, but managed to keep his focus on the ball as it passed through the arms of a Wolves defender and into his chest. Spain managed to cling the ball to his helmet after it clanked off his chest plate, giving the Wildcats the much needed score.

Central’s defense then held tough over the last three minutes of the game, forcing several incompletions and sacks. The Wildcats had one final scare when a Western Oregon receiver beat the coverage and was wide open, but the ball fell through his hands. Central forced one final incompletion from Bergman, which gave the Wildcats the victory.

Special teams played a huge factor in the game, as junior punter Matt Burke executed three perfect coffin corner punts, pinning the Wolves inside their own five yard line each time.

The poor field position made it difficult for Western Oregon’s offense to operate and gave Central advantages on both offense and defense. Central used the opportunities to score. Burke understands the impact his punts have on the game.

“It’s a huge momentum booster for our team, especially for our defense that they have a short amount of field to go against, so it really sets the defense up in good field position,”
Wildcats starting running back Sumler left the game with an injury early in the second quarter, which left the bulk of the carries throughout the game in the hands of freshman Jordan Todd, who rose to the occasion. The 5’5”speedster filled in admirably for Sumler, holding his own against a stout WOU defensive line, rushing for 90 yards on 18 carries. His ability to step up when called upon was vital to Central’s offense in the second half.

“We don’t play many freshman here,” said head coach Blaine Bennett, “he’s one of the finest freshman that we’ve had come into the program and be able to play that first year. He’s a solid young man, he’s physically strong enough to carry that load.”

The emotional shifts throughout were hard on the fans, but, Bennett felt only exhilaration for the players who had won such a tightly-contested game.

“They play hard for each other, it’s exciting for them to be in a game like today and to come out on top, I’m real proud of them,” Bennett said.

Spain’s clutch snag that gave Central the win was one for the ages; a brilliant audible by Robertson put his Spain in perfect position to make the play. Though it may have been both beautiful and a little ugly at the same time, the end result was all that mattered. Spain’s catch gave the Cats the lead when they needed it most.

“I came up to try to make a play, slipped, it hit me in the chest, and then I caught it against my helmet,” Spain said. “That was the craziest catch I’ve ever had in my life.”

Next week CWU celebrates Senior Day by hosting Dixie State (3-7 overall, 3-6 GNAC). Kickoff is scheduled for Noon at Tomlinson Stadium.

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