Courtesy of Central Washington Athletics
ELLENSBURG, Wash. - The Central Washington University Wildcats scored the game's first three points and finished with 370 yards of total offense, but three turnovers and several big plays cost the fifth-ranked Wildcats in their 35-10 home loss to fourth-ranked Minnesota Duluth on Saturday afternoon at Tomlinson Stadium.
The game was the season opener for both schools. The Wildcats (0-1) saw a 17-game regular-season winning streak snapped with the defeat -- their worst loss since a 59-21 home loss to Nebraska-Omaha on Nov. 10, 2007 -- and marked just the fourth loss in 26 career games at CWU for third-year head coach Blaine Bennett. The last regular-season loss by Central Washington was a 38-35 defeat against Division I Montana on Sept. 27, 2008.
Central had a strong opening possession on both defense and offense on Saturday. The Wildcats held Minnesota Duluth to a three-and-out on the opening series of the game, and their offense then followed with a successful series that chewed up nearly six minutes of game clock and saw CWU traverse 63 yards down the field. However, after getting into the red zone, they were only able to come away with a 37-yard field goal by sophomore Pavel Panchenko (Napavine, Wash./Toledo HS).
The game appeared as if it would be a low-scoring affair as neither team scored again in the first quarter, but UMD began to make its move on the first drive of the second quarter. The Bulldogs capped a six-play, 65-yard drive with a one-yard scoring run by Brian Hanson -- on his only carry of the game -- to give the visitors a 7-3 lead. The Central offense was at a standstill on its next two possessions, failing to gain a first down on either series, with the latter of those two ending with an interception at the Wildcat 19 yard line. Minnesota Duluth capitalized six plays later, as Isaac Odim scored on a four-yard carry to make it a 14-3 count.
Another three-and-out by the Wildcat offense returned possession to Minnesota Duluth, and the Bulldogs extended their lead to three scores as quarterback Chase Vogler broke multiple tackles and scampered 55 yards on a third-and-nine play to give the Bulldogs a 21-3 advantage. Central gained 17 yards on five plays behind the arm and legs of senior quarterback Alex Cate (Salt Lake City, Utah/Cottonwood HS), but the Wildcats failed to score before halftime.
At the start of the second half, sophomore quarterback Ryan Robertson (Sammamish, Wash./Eastlake HS) took over the reigns of the offense but got the Wildcats just one first down on his opening series. After a 46-yard punt by senior Kyle Petersen (Alta Loma, Calif./South Hills HS) pinned Minnesota Duluth at its own 10-yard line, the Bulldogs struck with the first of two significant plays -- an 89-yard pass from Vogler to D.J. Winfield that pushed the margin to 25 points -- the largest CWU deficit in a game since the 2007 playoffs.
Robertson tried bringing the Wildcats back, totaling 236 second-half passing yards on 21 of 33 pass attempts, but found the end zone just once on a 39-yard pass to senior Chris Smith (San Diego, Calif./Helix HS) with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter. He was intercepted twice, the first of which resulted in a 46-yard return for a touchdown by UMD's Forest Clements early in the fourth quarter.
Following Clements' scoring return, Robertson completed four of his first six pass attempts and was aided by consecutive pass interference penalties, but a quarterback sack and a holding penalty took the Wildcats from a first-and-10 at the UMD 11 to a third-and-28 on the Bulldogs' 29. Then, on a 46-yard field goal attempt by Panchenko, a false start penalty turned the attempt into a 51-yard try, which he missed short and wide to the right, keeping the score at 35-10. There were only three first downs gained over the final 11 minutes of the contest -- all by Central.
Central Washington actually finished the game with a 25-yard edge in total offense (370-345) and four more first downs than Minnesota Duluth, while time of possession and penalty yardage were nearly identical. However, three interceptions and two momentum-changing plays by the visiting Bulldogs proved to be the difference.
Central did its job holding All-American Odim in check, keeping the senior running back to just 50 rushing yards on 20 carries. Senior Adam Bighill (Montesano, Wash.) had a standout game defensively, leading all players with 10 tackles, while fellow linebackers Paul Wright (Martinez, Calif./De La Salle HS) and Jared Silva-Purcell (Honolulu, Hawaii/St. Louis HS) added seven tackles apiece.
Offensively, Robertson helped the Wildcats throw for 303 yards as a team, while Cate finished with just 67 yards on 9 of 15. Smith ended up as the top receiver with six receptions for 86 yards, while junior Justin Helwege (Sammamish/Eastlake HS) netted five catches total including four in the second half.
Minnesota Duluth was led by the passing and rushing of Vogler, who totaled 252 yards of offense and had seven of his nine completions going to D.J. Winfield, who netted 164 receiving yards.
Central Washington, which suffered its first opening-game loss in four years, will play its next two games away from home. The Wildcats open defense of their Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship next Saturday night (Sept. 4) at Dixie State (0-1, 0-0 GNAC), with kickoff set for 7 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.