ELLENSBURG — Central Washington’s offense looked capable of keeping up with No. 2 Ferris State for portions of Saturday night’s home opener.
Two of the Wildcats’ young quarterbacks showed some promise, producing big plays to set up long scoring drives and keep the score close. But they struggled to find consistency and the CWU defense couldn’t contain an explosive offense in a 62-28 loss.
“I was proud of our grit up until about the fourth quarter and I just felt like we just didn’t have anything left to give emotionally,” coach Chris Fisk said. “Our guys have got to learn how to play a complete game.”
Ferris State quarterback Jayru Campbell, last year’s Harlon Hill award winner as the best player in Division II, felt plenty of pressure from an aggressive CWU defense. The Wildcats came up with three sacks and forced Campbell to rush several throws, testing his agility in his first game back from elbow surgery.
But Campbell also eluded several tacklers to make some big plays out of almost nothing. He finished with 271 yards and three touchdowns passing, along with another 42 yards rushing.
“It was super tough because a dynamic quarterback like that, it’s hard to stay in coverage for that long,” cornerback Tyren Sams said. “We’ve just got to do a better job containing the quarterback.”
Central Washington’s freshman quarterback Canon Racanelli showed no fear throwing the ball deep against Ferris State’s secondary. It paid off early on two long passes to Drake Owen, including a 48-yard touchdown, but the Bulldogs also picked off a deep bomb into coverage and Racanelli completed only 7 of 21 passes in the first half.
After he missed six of his first seven throws in the second half, Fisk turned to sophomore quarterback Christian Moore. Two tough catches by Jojo Hillel down the right sideline quickly set up Michael Roots for his second touchdown to cut the lead to 34-21.
The junior running back surpassed 100 yards again and brought Central back within six points after a 43-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Any hope of a comeback disappeared when Ferris State scored with a 72-yard pass on its next offensive play and put up 21 points in less than four minutes.
Another four-minute stretch featuring two critical mistakes at the end of the first half led to 13 points, breaking a 14-14 tie. First, Isaiah Williams muffed a punt at his own 10-yard line, then a controversial late hit called on Sams after the defense stopped Ferris State well short on a third-and-26 kept a touchdown drive alive.
Despite the brief spark Moore provided, he ended up just 6 for 14 with an interception when he overthrew another wide receiver down the sideline. Fisk praised his offensive line for giving their quarterbacks time to throw against a tough defensive front, and he’d like to see both players show a little more patience.
“I know we had some explosive plays,” Fisk said. “We had some good run plays in there, too, but those guys have got to do a much better job of getting the ball into the receiver’s hands and being more accurate.”
Seven long plays — six passes — of between 29 and 48 yards accounted for 260 yards, more than 50 percent of Central’s total offense. The Wildcats needed one of those plays on each of their four scoring drives.
That proved to be unsustainable as both the offense and defense faltered late, a more pronounced version of what happened at the end of a 41-31 loss at Idaho last Saturday. Fisk said Central’s run defense in particular appeared to deteriorate, a problem he considers more mental than physical.
Tailback Tyler Minor broke free for two long touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and Central struggled to stop quarterback Evan Cummins throughout the game when he came in near the goal line. Linebacker Donte Hamilton said nothing more than a lack of execution led to Cummins rushing 12 times for 75 yards and three touchdowns.
“When he came in we knew they were going to run it with him,” Hamilton said. “We just couldn’t seem to stop it.”
The program’s first 0-2 start since 2015 will leave the coaching staff with plenty of questions to answer heading into another nonconference game at winless Western New Mexico next Saturday. Fisk said those evaluations will include deciding who begins the game under center.
FSU — Evan Cummins 21 run (Jackson Dieterle kick)
CWU — Drake Owen 48 pass from Canon Racanelli (Gavon Todd kick)
FSU — Marcus Taylor 14 pass from Jayru Campbell (Dieterle kick)
CWU — Michael Roots 2 run (Todd kick)
FSU — Cummins 5 run (Dieterle kick failed)
FSU — Sy Barnett 42 run (Dieterle kick)
FSU — Cummins 1 run (Dieterle kick)
CWU — Roots 2 run (Todd kick)
CWU — Roots 43 run (Todd kick)
FSU — Xavier Wade 72 pass from Campbell (Dieterle kick)
FSU — Jevon Shaw 9 pass from Campbell (Dieterle kick)
FSU — Minor 52 run (Dieterle kick)
FSU — Tyler Minor 63 run (Dieterle kick)
RUSHING — Minor 2-115, Cummins 12-75, Barnett 3-48, Jayru Campbell 13-42, Jeremy Burrell 5- 25, D. Harrington 2-16, M. Washington 2-15, Marvin Campbell 9-10, Josh Walker 2-9, Jevon Shaw 1-5, Taylor 2-(munus 4). CWU, Roots 21-102. Zach Floyd 3-21, Christian Moore 6-21. Jojo Hillel 1-17, Racanelli 6-8, Eric Wilkes 2-3.
PASSING — FSU, Jayru Campbell 17-29-0-271, Cummins 0-2-1-0. CWU, Racanelli 8-29-1-215, Moore 6-14-1-103.
RECEIVING — FSU, Wade 3-110, Barnett 3-70, Taylor 4-31, Shaw 3-26, Harrington 1-21, Dion Earls 2-14, Campbell 1-(minus 1). CWU, Drake 2-81, Tyson Rainwater 3-78, Hillel 2-60, Tony Archie 4-57, Robert Mason III 1-15, Samuel Sanchez 1-13, Mykel Campbell 1-12.