YAKIMA, Wash. -- As usual, Central Washington’s defense was front and center when the Wildcats got their first victory of the season, a 20-7 home-field defeat of Western Oregon on Sept. 14.
After all the Wolves have scored no fewer than 28 points in any of their seven games since while averaging 36.4.
But if the Wildcats flexed their considerable stopping power in the aforementioned contest, they also found a quarterback. And while Jake Nelson has not posted eye-popping numbers since taking over during the first half of the first Western Oregon game, he at least has provided the type of stability CWU needed then, and will probably require again during today’s 1 p.m. rematch in Monmouth, Ore.
Central (6-2 GNAC, 6-3 overall), which has won its last three meetings with the Wolves and 17 of 18 dating back to 2002, must win this one to keep its GNAC title hopes alive. The Wolves (5-3, 5-4) saw theirs evaporate last week with a 38-28 loss at first-place Azusa Pacific.
Of Nelson, named the conference offensive player of the week for his play during Central’s 21-14 win over Humboldt State, coach John Picha said, “He’s playing very well. He did everything we asked of him in regards to managing the game.
“And after he threw the pick (an end zone interception late in the first half), he didn’t let it bother him. We pointed out where he needed to go with the ball to make sure that would not happen again.”
In the first Western Oregon game, redshirt freshman Nelson was summoned during the second quarter after starter Justin Lane had thrown his second interception of the first half.
Nelson’s final numbers were modest — 9-of-15 passing for 73 yards and one touchdown with no picks. And CWU’s offense remains a largely inexperienced unit that relies heavily on the run — an attack that should be stronger today with the return of Jordan Todd, who missed last week’s action with a separated shoulder.
To date, Nelson has yet to record a 200-yard passing game and has not attempted more than 32 throws in a specific contest. But last week he led two second-half scoring drives and had rushing gains of 42 and 19 yards to key the march that put the Wildcats ahead 14-7 in a game they would win 21-14.
“Those are things we always knew he could do,” Picha said. “He’s a good athlete, and the dual threat is something that gives the opposition another dimension to concern itself with.”
In the previous Western Oregon matchup, CWU’s defense produced five turnovers — including two interceptions and a fumble recovery by senior safety Deionte Gordon.
And while the Wildcats will today have Todd back, they will be without junior receiver Jordan Kinnune who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.