Mad River Union
ARCATA – Forget the 83-14 final score.
Saturday’s football fiesta at Humboldt State University was about making new friends across the southern border.
It was about what head coach Rob Smith called “sportsmanship at the highest level, and mutual appreciation and admiration and respect.”
It was also an opportunity for first-year HSU defensive coordinator Barry Sacks to see every player in action before coach Smith trims the roster to 54 players with a last round of cuts.
Most of all, it was preparation for Saturday’s matchup at Azusa Pacific, the defending Great Northwest Athletic Conference champion.
“It was a great night in the sense that we got a chance to play every possible player we could and really from the mid-second quarter on that was the case,” said HSU Head Coach Rob Smith.
A crowd of 3,622 at Redwood Bowl was treated to a unique international exhibition as the CETYS University Zorros of Tijuana and Mexicali in Mexico came to Arcata.
Humboldt State running back Ja’Quan Gardner’s 94-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff set the tone for an avalanche of scoring by the Jacks.
“CETYS kept battling,” coach Smith said, “and what a show after the game where you have both teams congratulating each other and taking a group picture, with a lot of smiles. It was great to see.”
Gardner scored twice more in the first quarter, on a 58-yard run and goal-line plunge from the 1-yard line.
Wide receiver Malcolm Hale caught two TD passes – 65 yards from quarterback Robert Webber to close the first quarter, and a 92-yard catch and run from Adam Wood with 11:34 left in the second.
Up 28-0 after the first quarter, the Jacks opened up the playbook and liberally substituted players. Sophomore running back Jabar Byrd replaced Gardner early on but the Jacks didn’t lose a step as Byrd burst into the open field on an 88-yard scoring run late in the second.
CETYS ran a successful two-minute drill to get into the end zone before halftime as receiver Ruben Mora Armenta caught a two-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Montano Espino.
The Zorros finished with 206 yards of total offense, which paled in comparison to HSU’s 637 yards. The Jacks averaged a stellar 12.7 yards per play.
HSU’s third-string QB Joey Sweeney connected with Deshaun Patacsil for a 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Coach Smith’s play calling kept the Zorros off balance throughout the game.
Cornerback Ryan McKenzie got into the scoring act on defense, returning an interception 48 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown.
Along with linebacker Edwin Campbell’s 35-yard interception return for a TD earlier in the game, the Jacks had two defensive scores. They went last season without one.
Defensive end Curtis Williams had two sacks against the Zorros while the his teammates in the secondary picked off five passes.
Azusa Pacific also displayed devastating defense on Saturday. The Cougars sealed a 24-13 victory over host West Texas A&M when defensive back Adrian Shocks returned a fourth-quarter fumble for a touchdown.
Asked if he was satisfied with HSU’s defense against CETYS, coach Sacks paused for a moment and replied thoughtfully, “I’m happy with the effort. Satisfied may not be the right word.”
He explained that the Jacks did a fine job reacting and running to the football. “Our tackling was good at times and at other times spotty.”
Azusa Pacific is ranked No. 13 nationally in Division II. Coach Sacks said he doesn’t believe HSU’s defenders will be overconfident going into Citrus Stadium.
“They understand the magnitude of the game,” he said. “Our starters were on the sideline in the fourth quarter talking about the level where they need to be, and what they need to do.”