BY CAMERON DANIELS, Staff Reporter
Down 17-3 at halftime to red-hot Dixie State University, Central Washington University head football coach, John Picha, had a simple message for his players.
“You get knocked down, you gotta’ get back up again,” Picha said.
Central battled back into contention in the second half and freshman kicker Sean McDonald hit the game-winning field goal with one-second remaining in the game to defeat Dixie State 27-24 on homecoming at Tomlinson Stadium.
Central improved to 4-2 overall, 4-1 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference while Dixie State dropped to 2-4 overall, 2-3 in GNAC.
The Red Storm raced out to a 10-0 first quarter lead after a 22-yard field goal and 53-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Myles Burton, giving Central its biggest deficit of the season.
Freshman kicker Sean McDonald put the Wildcats on the board with a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter. The Red Storm responded with an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Griff Robles to senior tight end Joe Don Duncan, increasing the Red Storm’s lead to 17-3.
Central’s stout defense held Dixie State on the goal line in the second quarter.
“We kept hanging in there, we just kept fighting,” sophomore corner back Isaiah Davis said.
Picha said he was very impressed with the defense’s efforts.
Dixie State drove down the field on their first drive of the second half only to have the Wildcats block their field goal attempt and recover it at the Dixie State 41-yard line.
Central proceeded to feed it to its workhorse on the ground, sophomore running back Jordan Todd. He rewarded them with a shifty 4-yard touchdown run where he sprinted towards the right side of the goal line and then stopped and gashed the defense up the middle for the score, cutting the lead to 17-10.
4,612 Wildcats’ fans erupted in cheers when Todd crossed the north goal line of Tomlinson Stadium.
Central scored again to tie the score with 13:26 to go in the fourth quarter. Freshman quarterback Jake Nelson dropped back to pass only to take it up the middle for the touchdown.
“The sea just opened up,” Nelson said.
Nelson finished the day 23-32 for 192 yards and one touchdown pass, along with his first rushing touchdown of his career.
Robles answered the Wildcats surge on offense by floating a 23-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Mitch Frei to regain the lead 24-17.
Robles threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns. The Red Storm’s leading receivers were Duncan and Frei with 150 and 159 yards, respectively.
Nelson came right back and fired a strike to freshman Jesse Zalk for a 7-yard touchdown to re-tie the game with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Zalk, who also handled some kick returns, had a career-best day. He finished with 104 yards receiving on 14 receptions and one touchdown, while also adding 113 return yards.
“We have the chemistry together,” Zalk said about fellow freshman Jake Nelson.
Following the Wildcats’ touchdown, the defense forced the Red Storm to go three-and-out.
Senior linebacker Riley Wall led the defense with seven tackles and one sack.
Nelson and Zalk hooked up again on the next drive for a 26-yard gain.
Two plays later, McDonald nailed the game winning 44-yard field goal and the stadium let out a deafening roar of excitement.
“We came together,” Zalk said.
Central Washington travels to Simon Fraser next week, looking to avenge a 21-14 defeat from week-three.