ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Central Washington players milled about on the field after Saturday’s game, faces filled with disappointment and trying to figure out what happened.
Not regarding their longshot playoff hopes not paying off.
It had more to do with the, quite frankly, stunning outcome on the Tomlinson Stadium turf.
On a day when Central’s offense rolled up 570 yards with no turnovers, that performance got one-upped by an Azusa Pacific unit that was literally unstoppable in the second half. Behind quarterback Tyrone Williams, the Cougars erupted for five touchdowns after the break and earned 42-35 victory that gave them a share of the GNAC title with the Wildcats.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said senior running back Cedric Cooper, who closed out his Central career in style with 121 yards rushing and three touchdowns. “We knew Azusa was going to come at us. They weren’t going to just give it to us.”
“They’ve played some tight games this season and found a way to win them,” Central coach Ian Shoemaker said, adding that it was a strange feeling for his players. “This is our first conference loss in two years and you can see the disappointment with all the long faces. I think that shows you what the expectation is in this program.”
“They were playing for just as much as we were,” said senior quarterback Reilly Hennessey, who threw for 315 yards and a pair of first-half touchdowns, “and they were able to take advantage of their opportunities and we didn’t.”
For example, Central was 0 for 4 on fourth-down conversions, including a crucial miss on a fourth-and-2 from the APU 11 with just under a minute left in the first half as the Wildcats opted against a field goal that would’ve given them a 17-7 lead.
“We could’ve had 28 points in that first half and that’s disappointing,” Shoemaker said.
Also, even though Central punted just twice, both came in the second half, preventing them from keeping pace with the Cougars as the game became a shootout, and the Wildcats hurt themselves with eight penalties for 53 yards while APU was whistled just once for 15.
“There was too much self-inflicted stuff,” Hennessey said.
On top of all that, throw in the fact that Azusa Pacific played a flawless offensive game with 566 yards in total offense with no turnovers and no sacks allowed.
That became magnified in the second half, where the Cougars had 355 yards. Williams did most of that damage, going 14 of 18 for 263 yards and all five of his scoring passes while also collecting 60 of his 63 rushing yards, most coming on scrambles to keep plays alive.
“No. 5 had a lot of good plays outside the playbook,” Shoemaker said of Williams. “Those scramble plays hurt. We’ve got to be able to get him on the ground.”
Central couldn’t and it proved costly, with Williams’ final two scoring passes particularly painful.
After Cooper’s final rushing score, a 4-yarder with 6:27 to play to put the Wildcats ahead 35-28, it took APU just one play to tie the game as Williams hit a wide-open Gaige Allen near midfield and he outraced the defense for the score.
Central then had its first three-and-out and APU began what would be the winning drive at its own 21 with 5:19 to play. Central appeared to get a break when a fumbled pitch dropped the Cougars into a second-and-18 at the CWU 39 with under two minutes remaining, but on the next play, Williams dropped a screen pass to Allen along the APU sideline and he went around and through defenders for a TD with 1:21 to play that left Central’s players and their fans in a state of shock.
“It sucks,” Hennessey said, adding that he could take some comfort in knowing the Wildcats are a conference champion again, even if they have to share this one.
“In a five-team league, having to share a title is a little bizarre,” he said, “but at the same time, I’ll take it.”
Azusa Pacific 0 7 13 22 — 42
CWU 0 14 7 14 — 35
CWU—Jordan Tufaga 25 pass from Reilly Hennessey (Chandler Woolley kick), 13:20.
CWU—Ryan Ramones 78 pass from Hennessey (Woolley kick), 11:17.
APU—Bryce Grandison 2 run (Jacob Hall kick), 5:10.
CWU—Cedric Cooper 5 run (Woolley kick), 11:42.
APU—Darrell Adams 56 pass from Tyrone Williams (Hall kick), 9:54.
APU—Weston Carr 5 pass from Williams (kick failed), 1:58.
CWU—Cooper 1 run (Woolley kick), 14:18.
APU—Widmer 3 pass from Williams (Williams run), 8:32.
CWU—Cooper 4 run (Woolley kick), 6:27.
APU—Gaige Allen 70 pass from Williams (Hall kick), 6:11.
APU—Allen 39 pass from Williams (Hall kick), 1:21.
First downs 27 22
Rushes-yards 38-141 44-255
Passing 425 315
Comp-Att-Int 26-33-0 15-27-0
Return Yards 125 86
Punts-Avg. 2-36.5 4-44.5
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-0
Penalty-Yards 1-15 8-53
Time of Possession 29:49 30:11
RUSHING—Azusa Pacific, Grandison 18-72, Williams 10-63, Baltazar 7-11, Team 3-(minus 5). Central Washington, Cooper 19-121, Hennessey 12-63, Michael Roots 11-63, Robert Mason III 2-8.
PASSING—Azusa Pacific, Williams 26-33-0-425. Central Washington, Hennessey, 15-27-0-315.
RECEIVING—Azusa Pacific, Allen 5-153, Matt Ozech 5-81, Adams 3-76, Brandon Jackson 6-46, Grandison 2-42, Widmer 3-17, Carr 1-5, James Hubbard 1-5. Central Washington, Ramones 3-150, Cooper 3-45, Tony Archie 2-45, Quinton Lewis 3-32, Tufaga 1-25, Tyson Rainwater 1-12, Christian Hill-Sanders 1-6, Roots 1-0.