CANYON, Texas — It was a tale of two halves for Central Washington and unfortunately for the Wildcats, their strong finish wasn't quite enough to offset a rough first half that left them in a big hole.
West Texas A&M took advantage of a mistake-prone Central squad to jump ahead by double digits after one quarter and stretch the lead to 24 by halftime before withstanding a furious Wildcat surge in the fourth quarter to earn a 48-41 victory in the nonconference game at Buffalo Stadium.
"We got down there to start the game and we couldn't seem to do much right," CWU coach Chris Fisk said. "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot between the turnovers, special team misfires and giving up big plays.
"If you can name something that can go wrong in football, it did for us in that first half."
Those breakdowns included a 44-yard scoring run by Jarrod Compton and Donavan Manuel recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown that helped West Texas A&M (4-1) race to a 20-7 lead after the first quarter.
The Buffaloes extended the lead to 34-10 at halftime and made 41-10 midway through the third thanks to another big play — a 50-yard touchdown pass from Nick Gerber to Juwan McCall.
Still, Central (1-4) didn't quit and behind running back Michael Roots and quarterback Christian Moore, who replaced starter Canon Racanelli midway through the second quarter, it nearly pulled off an improbable comeback.
Moore, a sophomore from Bellarmine Prep in Puyallup, threw four second-half touchdown passes and finished 18 of 31 for 339 yards.
Roots, meanwhile, continued his stellar season, rushing for 212 yards on 21 carries while adding three receptions for 84 yards, including a 41-yard TD grab.
"It was more us settling down and cutting out the mistakes," Fisk said of the second half turnaround. "We knew we had opportunities to move the football. We had been doing it all game."
Central got rolling when Moore hit Tony Archie for a 26-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter and then connected with Roots in the first minute of the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 41-25.
But West Texas A&M responded with a scoring drive capped off by a 14-yard TD run by Compton.
With time winding down, Central made one last push, starting with a 26-yard scoring pass from Moore to Mykel Campbell with 3:44 left.
Central's defense forced a three-and-out and Moore hit a big 55-yard scoring pass to Tyson Rainwater to make it 48-38 with 1:42 to play. Central recovered the onside kick and reached the Buffaloes 16 before a penalty forced them to settle for Jordan Todd's 40-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.
The Wildcats were unable to recover a second onside kick and West Texas A&M held on.
"The kids have fought hard all year. We just had some things go poorly, though, tonight," said Fisk, adding that despite the outcome, he did see several positives on both sides of the ball.
"Overall, I thought our defense played better," he said, "... but when you put your defense in short fields (like we did tonight), you're setting yourself up to fail."
Offensively, Fisk said the team needs to get better in the red zone but likes the overall direction of that unit, saying, "We have some playmakers. We have wide receivers who can make plays and an offensive line that can run block. I feel like we're really close to being a really good offensive unit."
That was evidenced by Saturday's receiving numbers for Rainwater (6 catches, 116 yards), Archie (6-76), Campbell (4-67) and Roots.
For West Texas A&M, Compton ran 15 times for 117 yards and two scores, and Duke Carter IV, who ran for 259 against Central in Ellensburg last season, added 87 yards and a score. Gerber was 18 of 31 for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
The Wildcats return to GNAC play next Saturday, hosting Azusa Pacific in a 6 p.m. kickoff at Tomlinson Stadium.
WT — Jordan Johnson 18 run (kick failed)
CWU —FG Gavin Todd 36
WT - Jarrod Compton 44 run (Mauricio Gonzalez kick)
WT — Donevin Manuel recovered blocked punt in end zone (Gonzalez kick)
WT — Duke Carter IV 1 run (Gonzalez kick)
CWU — Tony Archie 13 pass from Canon Racanelli (Todd kick)
WT — Semaj Mitchell 9 pass from Nick Gerber (Gonzalez kick)
WT — Juwan McCall 50 pass from Gerber (Gonzalez kick)
CWU — Archie 26 pass from Christian Moore (Todd kick)
CWU — Michael Roots 41 pass from Moore (Roots run)
WT — Compton 14 run (Gonzalez kick)
CWU — Mykel Campbell 26 pass from Moore (Todd kick)
CWU — Tyson Rainwater 55 pass from Moore (run failed)
CWU — FG Todd 40
Total net yards=631=441
Time of Possession=31:49=28:11
RUSHING — CWU, Roots 21-207, Eric Wilkes 2-20, Moore 7-13, Jojo Hillel 1-5, Racanelli 6-21, Archie 1-(minus 9) . WTAM, Compton 15-117, Carter 23-98, Johnson 4-20, Team 1-(minus 1), Gerber 2-(minus 5).
PASSING — CWU, Racanelli 7-16-1-54, Moore 18-31-339. WTAM, Gerber 18-31-1-224.
RECEIVING — CWU, Rainwater 6-116, Archi 6-76, Campbell 4-67, Roots 3-84, Robert Mason III 3-5, Hillel 2-34, Drake Owen 1-11. WTAM, McCall 7-132, Johnson 3-46, Chase Sojka 3-24, Jamaal Hamilton 2-12, Mitchell 1-9, Carter 1-1, Compton 1-0.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — WTAM, Gonzalez 47.