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Football clinches GNAC championship

Jaryd Cline, Staff Reporter - November 14, 12

The Central Washington University football team and its 22 seniors gave the hometown fans plenty to cheer about in their final game of the season by winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship.

The Wildcats defeated Dixie State 51-19 on Saturday afternoon, finishing the season with a record of 7-4 overall and 7-3 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. The Wildcats won their seventh GNAC championship in the school’s 10th year in the conference.

“Obviously, this season’s a special one,” head coach Blaine Bennett said. “After last year’s season, as a staff we really stepped back and evaluated everything we did.”

The race for the GNAC championship came down to Central and Humboldt State, each vying to either win the title outright or split it. Central took care of business against Dixie State, but Humboldt State lost to Western Oregon 38-22, giving the Wildcats sole possession of the championship.

With Humboldt trailing 21-6 when the Wildcats defeated Dixie State, it was still possible for Humboldt to come back and win a share of the GNAC title.

“Either way, we’re going to celebrate as conference champs,” Bennett said. “We took care of it and people can say whatever, but our players are conference champs and we feel like we’re conference champs.”

Central started off strong after senior wide receiver Tavoy Moore found a crease in the defense and returned Dixie State’s first punt for 22 yards. Central pushed the ball to the Dixie State six yard line, but lost yards on its next three plays, the Wildcats to bring out the field goal unit. The field goal attempt careened off the left crossbar and gave Dixie State possession at its own 10-yard line.

Shortly after the missed field goal, senior safety Kevin Puckett picked off Dixie State quarterback Griff Robles and returned the ball 62 yards for a touchdown, giving Central a 7-0 advantage after the extra point.

During Central’s next possession, freshman running back Jordan Todd began his day by rushing for 49 yards and scoring a touchdown on back-to-back carries. Todd finished the afternoon by breaking personal records in rushing yards and touchdowns, finishing with 192 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

The linemen “were awesome today,” Todd said. “The holes were crazy, the team just played awesome, especially the great lineman.”

Dixie State scored on the next possession after Robles completed a 61-yard pass. Dixie State’s extra point attempt was blocked by junior defensive lineman Jake Tepper, and the ball was returned 96 yards for two points by junior linebacker Ridge Nielsen, giving the Wildcats a 16-6 lead.

The only points of the second quarter came when Todd finished off a ten-play, 80-yard drive by rushing the ball in from one yard out, giving Central a 23-6 lead at halftime.

The Wildcats came out in the third quarter and buried Dixie State by scoring on their next four possessions. Senior quarterback Ryan Robertson continued his strong night by throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Brandon Dunlap, his first touchdown grab of the season. On the very next possession, Robertson found senior wide receiver Robert Akeo-Orr for a 17-yard touchdown grab.

“It feels really good just to come out here and execute well and throw a couple of touchdowns to some seniors,” Robertson said. “It was just a picture perfect way to end it.”

Junior linebacker Riley Wall gave the Wildcats a good field position after he recovered a Dixie State fumble and returned it 12 yards, leaving the Wildcat offense the ball at their own 35-yard line. Todd took the next two handoffs for a combined 65 yards to record his third touchdown of the afternoon, giving Central a 44-6 lead.

Junior defensive end Jerod Baker sacked the Dixie State quarterback on back-to-back plays, giving him three sacks total that afternoon and forcing Dixie State to punt again.

Robertson finished his outstanding final game by completing a 59-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Griffin Squires, his first touchdown reception of his senior year.

Robertson finished the game completing 18-19 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns, including completing 15 passes in a row, tying a CWU record.

“I think we just had a good balance on offense today,” Robertson said. “We were running well and everyone was blocking their assignments well, and it created some creases for (Todd) and (Sumler) to run through.”

Central ended the game with 226 yards on the ground and 254 yards through the air, while holding Dixie State to a combined 333 yards of offense.

“They really had a dominating performance, it was just really exciting,” Bennett said. “It’s nice to see all that hard work come together.”

Senior wide receivers Anthony Spain and Moore finished with 77 and 58 receiving yards, respectively, while Moore added 71 return yards.

“I know how much the championship meant to all the seniors,” Todd said. “So it’s good to finally get them their last win and the championship.”

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