CWU football comes to a close at home

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CWU football comes to a close at home

CWU Football chants

CWU Football chants "Football" as they warm up at practice. The team has been named GNAC co-champions.

Heather Stewart

CWU Football chants "Football" as they warm up at practice. The team has been named GNAC co-champions.

Heather Stewart

Heather Stewart

CWU Football chants "Football" as they warm up at practice. The team has been named GNAC co-champions.

Micah Chen, Staff Reporter

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Head coach Ian Shoemaker’s team will be on the outside looking in when first round playoff action starts next week. CWU finished the regular season 8-3, a record that won’t be good enough for the 2018 Wildcats to qualify for the postseason.

Shoemaker believes that despite the tough finish to the season, there’s still optimism to build on going forward.

“I wouldn’t say we’re 100 percent back to where we were last year,” Shoemaker said. “I think we have improved in some areas, and there still needs to be improvement in some areas.”

It isn’t often that a team with a .727 winning percentage doesn’t make it to the playoffs.

Here is how the Division II playoffs work: the country is divided into four areas known as super regions. The top seven teams from each region move on to the national playoffs. Right now, CWU is ranked ninth in their region.

It’s worth noting that seven of the top 16 teams in the country reside in the region that CWU plays in, making it one of the most competitive regions in the country. These teams are #1 Minnesota State, #5 Minnesota Duluth, #6 Tarleton state, #9 Colorado State Pueblo, #14 Colorado School of Mines, #15 Texas A&M Commerce and #16 MSU Texas.

For a greater perspective on how competitive CWU’s region is, it should be noted that Texas A&M Commerce holds the sixth playoff spot in the region and they were last year’s national champion. Minnesota State University, another team in CWU’s region, hasn’t lost a regular season game since October 2016, and they were just moved up to the number one team.

“Strength of schedule is one of the things that determine the rankings,” Shoemaker said. “Our schedule hasn’t been as strong with records of the teams we’ve played.”

When you look back at CWU’s three losses this season, the one that’s hurting them the most right now is the 28-26 upset at the hands of unranked West Texas A&M University. This loss is one of only two unranked losses across the regional top seven this entire season.  

The combined record of CWU’s Division II opponents this year was 22-44, but it isn’t exactly CWU’s fault that they played a weak schedule.

They have to play all GNAC opponents twice. This includes a home and away game with Simon Fraser University, who has lost 52 of their last 53 games. It also includes a home and away game with Humboldt State, whose program has now been cut.

A seemingly simple solution to strengthening the schedule would be scheduling tougher opponents, but as Shoemaker points out, it’s not that simple.

“There’s a number of conferences in the country that you can’t get into their schedule,” Shoemaker said.

In a perfect world, CWU would be playing powerhouse programs like number-one ranked Minnesota State and number four Colorado School of Mines every year. Shoemaker already has booked a home and away with Texas A&M Commerce, and ideally he would have more competitive games just like that.

Unfortunately, this can’t happen because those teams already have fully booked schedules.

Minnesota State University plays in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, a division that features 16 teams.

Colorado School of Mines plays in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which has 11 teams.

Meanwhile CWU’s conference, the GNAC, will have only four teams next season.

This means continued double headers against struggling programs like Simon Fraser (1-9) and Western Oregon (5-6), with the occasional non-conference game against Southwest Baptist University (0-10).

It’s a recipe for disaster when it comes to the Division II committee evaluations, and it certainly hurt CWU this season. As time goes forward, the best thing CWU can do is just win. They showed in 2017 that by going 11-0 in the regular season, they can qualify for the playoffs.

It’s going to take similarly Herculean efforts in the future, and it all starts at the quarterback position. The Wildcats will graduate fifth year senior quarterback Reilly Hennessey. He transferred to CWU from EWU prior to the 2017 season. The 6-foot-3, 220 pound gunslinger finished his CWU career with 5,256 yards and an 19-4 record.   

Offensive coordinator Chris Fisk believes Hennessey was a big part of the program’s culture change.

“I’ve had a lot of quarterbacks and he’s up in the top two or three,” Fisk said. “He’s got command of the offense; he’s just above the average player.”

Things are about to change quickly, as redshirt sophomore-to-be Christian Moore appears to be the next man in line.

Moore finished his redshirt freshman campaign with 245 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. Fisk says there’s a lot of similarities between Hennessy and Moore.

They both have close stature (Moore is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds), and Fisk said both have the same playing style. They run the offense how it should be.

Complimenting Moore going forward will be fellow backfield mate, junior running back Michael Roots.

Roots finished his sophomore season with 1,297 total yards and 13 touchdowns. He should be able to fill the void left by departing running backs Christian Cummings and Cedric Cooper.

On the defensive side, defensive coordinator Ivan Cordova is excited with what he has to work with for the future. The team’s top 10 returning tacklers are all coming back next season. This includes linebackers Donte Hamilton, Uli Ma’ae and Tevin Gray.

“Donte Hamilton is probably the top guy,” Cordova said. “He’s probably the most notable, but we’ve got a lot of young guys.”

One of the things the Wildcats’ 2018 season will be remembered for is being the first season under the new lights.

As cool as they’ve looked on game day, where they may have been most practical is during their preparation for these moments.

The 2017 season was the first year under Shoemaker that they moved practice from 7 a.m. to the evening. This caused problems late in the season, as they had to start practicing at Ellensburg High School to use their lights.

Now that Tomlinson Stadium has its own lights, the coaching staff has relished staying home every day.

“It’s so much better,” Shoemaker said. “This schedule being able to stay on a normal process has been a huge advantage.”

The All-GNAC teams will be announced later this month and that will be the last piece of business concerning the Wildcats’ 2018 season.

It will be as juicy an offseason as any in recent years for CWU Football. The class of 2019 recruits will have two chances to sign their Letter Of Intent on Dec. 19 and Feb. 6.

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CWU football comes to a close at home