Mad River Union
ARCATA – Davaeon Johnson had the game of his life for Humboldt State’s football team during Saturday’s 56-13 triumph over Chadron State in Redwood Bowl. His three picks are the most he’s had playing football, Pee Wee on up through high school, and tied a Great Northwest Athletic Conference single-game record.
“It was amazing,” said the sophomore defensive back. “The D line was getting pressure on the quarterback, he was throwing errant passes, and I was there to pick ‘em.”
His second theft was a 48-yard pick-six off Eagles quarterback Dalton Holst less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The nationally ranked Lumberjacks improved to 4-0 by racing out to an early lead. The visitors from Nebraska had to pass to get back in the contest, but their air attack backfired.
Running back Jabar Byrd’s two touchdowns sandwiched a 42-yard TD pass from quarterback Robert Webber to Jamere Austin for a 21-0 advantage midway through the first quarter. A 37-yard connection between Webber and John Todd set up Byrd’s scoring run from the 2-yard line.
The Eagles got on the board with Holst’s 13-yard touchdown strike to Brandon Fullerton to open the second quarter, but the Jacks answered with their passing attack. Webber capped a 12-play, 74-yard scoring drive with a six-yard toss to Richard Doctor.
The highlight of the first half was a Webber to Todd catch and run for 86 yards to the end zone. Todd's touchdown reception gave HSU a 35-13 lead at halftime.
HSU's offense provided the separation in the first half, but it was the defense that put the game away after the break. The Eagles had no choice but to pass. The Jacks defense shut out the Eagles in the final 30 minutes and picked off Chadron State signal callers five times.
The Jacks finished with seven takeaways.
“Something we’ve been lacking defensively is the ability to take the ball away,” HSU head coach Rob Smith said. “We had some opportunities last week (in a 49-48 overtime win at Western Oregon), and had some critical drops that could’ve ended the game, but they sure showed up tonight.”
Safety James Clark had an interception while leading the team in tackles with six, including two for a loss. He shrugged off the distraction of the program’s doubtful future, and dismissed talk that the Jacks are overconfident.
“We’re not,” he said. “We’re just hard workers, and we like to have fun on game day. We have one of the most explosive offenses. Tackling at practice is harder than tackling in games. I’d rather practice.”
Defensive backs Demetrick Watts and Nick Julier, along with linebacker James Benedix each made five stops. “The guys in the secondary were tested and they did respond,” said coach Smith.
Linebackers Curtis Williams and Arcata native Connor Cox also made some good plays, including pass deflections and quarterback hurries by Williams.
“Our defense has a mutual respect for our offense,” Cox said. “We feel that when we line up against teams on Saturday that it’s almost a step back. Our offense is so high powered, it gets us ready for every game.”
Running back Ja'Quan Gardner rumbled for a one-yard touchdown and finished the game with a team-high 135 yards on 20 carries.
Webber was 15-of-22 passing for 338 yards, four touchdowns and an interception for an outstanding 131 quarterback rating. Byrd had a total of three TDs, and his two on the ground were a career best.
One player who is easy to overlook but has been a sure bet for HSU is kicker Jose Morales. His booming kickoffs are usually well placed inside the 10-yard line, and he hasn’t missed a point-after attempt (one was blocked early in the season).
“Jose has been very, very consistent,” coach Smith said. “He’s doing his job. We’ve got a lot of players doing their jobs right now, and that’s what good teams have to have.”
The Eagles (3-2) had more than 300 yards of total offense but stymied themselves with turnovers. Eagles defenders Truett Box and Keenan Johnson were in on 10 tackles apiece.
“We knew their offense was explosive and could score fast,” Chadron State head coach Jay Long said. “They scored 21 points on us in the first quarter, and that forced us to be one-dimensional on offense. I felt we had some opportunities to get back into the game, and we just couldn't capitalize."
Coach Long is on the American Football Coaches Association rating committee. He said he will undoubtedly rank the Lumberjacks pretty high this week.
HSU travels to face undefeated and nationally ranked Central Washington. Kickoff on Saturday is 1 p.m.