ARCATA – No. 16-ranked Humboldt State fell behind by as many as 28 points in the first half and was unable to overcome the deficit as it fell to No. 7 Central Washington 42-28 Saturday in Redwood Bowl.
The Lumberjacks finish the season with a 8-2 overall record and a 6-2 mark in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play. Central Washington completed its undefeated run through the regular season at 11-0 and improved to 8-0 against conference opponents. The Wildcats captured an outright GNAC title with Saturday's result and are likely bound for a spot in the NCAA Division II postseason.
"Let's give credit to Central Washington, they are the best team in the GNAC – that's clear," said Head Coach Rob Smith. "Today they were much better than we were, much better prepared and much better coached."
A rocky start to HSU's regular season finale proved to be too much to recover from as Central Washington took a 21-0 advantage less than 10 minutes into the game. Running back Austin Pernell carried the ball 11 times for 136 yards and three first-half touchdowns, the most devastating of which was an 80-yard run two plays into the second quarter.
Senior running back Ja'Quan Gardner got the Jacks on the board just before the break as he found the end zone from three yards out with 14 seconds on the clock. Gardner was silenced by the Central Washington front seven and finished the game with 11 carries for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Halftime adjustments favored the Green and Gold who scored 14 points and shutout the Wildcats to start the second half. Davaeon Johnson picked off Central Washington QB Reilly Hennessey on the first drive of the half, and the sophomore from Antelope, Calif., returned the pick 77 yards for a touchdown. On HSU's next possession, a trick play that featured a backward pass to senior Chase Krivashei caught the Wildcats off guard. The Corona, Calif., native launched the ball 37 yards to a wide open Jamere Austin to pull the Jacks within two scores, 35-21.
"Our kids weren't going to roll over," said Smith. "I told them at halftime we have two choices, respond or roll over, and we responded in that third quarter."
Hennessey orchestrated a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive on the Wildcats' next drive to once again make it a 21-point ballgame with less than 20 minutes left in regulation.
Webber connected with Gardner on a 19-yard touchdown strike with 5:13 remaining to make the score 42-28. The Jacks' signal caller completed 23-of-39 passes for 300 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was under pressure throughout the game and was sacked a season-high 11 times.
HSU ended the game with 287 yards of total offense, but were limited to -50 rushing yards.
"We are 8-2 and that is a very successful season," said Smith. "These 24 seniors that end their career today – what a special group they are."
The Jacks honored their 24 seniors during pregame ceremonies, and 5,467 fans were on hand for the regular season finale.