BURNABY — The Simon Fraser football team knew it was going to have to catch lightning in a bottle in order to upset the heavily-favoured Central Washington Wildcats on Saturday as SFU Stadium at Terry Fox Field had it official opening ceremonies.
What it didn’t know was that in the midst of its best stretch of play this season, that the football gods themselves would seize the energy inside that figurative bottle and let it strike down from the heavens above Burnaby Mountain at just the wrong time.
Trailing the Wildcats just 8-7 with 1:06 remaining in the first quarter and having just scored the kind of touchdown capable of igniting an entire roster, actual lightning flashes illuminated the skyline, causing both teams to flee the field for cover during a delay which lasted just under an hour.
To its credit, SFU actually managed to take a brief lead when the storm ceded, yet were unable to score the rest of the way en route to a 36-14 loss in a game that was a lot tighter – a one-score contest until nine minutes remained on the game clock – then the final score might indicate.
That’s another way of describing how close this one actually was for a team which had been outscored 124-20 over its first two games.
Central Washington, however, showed it could push through its own shortcomings when it needed to, and throughout the majority of the fourth quarter it relied on the metronomic effectiveness of its power running game behind punishing redshirt junior and Colorado State transfer Rashaad Boddie, who carried the mail right up the middle and finished with 25 carries for 279 yards, three touchdowns and a whopping 11.2 yards-per-carry average.
In the fourth quarter alone, Boddie carried 10 times for 141 yards and two touchdowns, including his back-breaking, school-record 87-yard scoring run with 1:01 remaining to put the game on ice.
“I’m upset but I am also extremely proud of this team,” said SFU’s sophomore cornerback Jerrell Cummings, whose work with a rapidly-improving defensive secondary actually forced the Wildcats’ hand, as they revved up the run game as a hopeful answer to their lack of success through the air.
“Every unit, every position group on this team came out to play and there was never a moment that we had doubt about whether we could win this game,” said Cummings, whose four tackles on the night didn’t tell the full story of the blanketing presence the he, fellow corner Kolby Buljevic (10.5 tackles), and safeties Brendan Lowry (4.5 tackles) and Evan Currie (4 tackles) provided throughout.
“It’s unfortunate we had a delay,” continued Cummings. “I think that played a factor in the game… maybe in the end it added up to a little momentum swing.”
For a team looking to start a winning trend, moral victories no longer exist.
Yet it was hard not to measure the dramatic improvement Simon Fraser (0-3, 0-1 GNAC) showed against Central Washington (2-1, 1-0 GNAC), considering it lost 56-20 loss just seven days ago at Div. 3 Linfield.
Much of the credit had to go to the offensive game plan, schemed in such a way as to keep the Wildcats guessing, even though there would be no obvious attempt to try and establish a run game.
Quarterback Justin Sieber locked in on the short passing game with slot receiver Riley Morrison (9 catches, 76 yards), and running back Paul Thomas (5 catches for 37), then brought the likes of Robert Meadors, Sam Davenport and Ryan Naylor more significantly into the fold for the first time this season with deeper strikes.
And the team’s two touchdowns were each impressive in their own right.
Trailing 8-0, Simon Fraser scored its first touchdown when Lowry, lined up seven yards off the line of scrimmage, came on a safety blitz and rocked CWU quarterback JJ Lemming, dislodging the ball and allowing it to it be recovered at the 12-yard line by senior defensive end Isaac Evans.
Two plays later, Seiber found Meadors at the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
SFU then mounted one of its most impressive drives of the season, going 71 yards on six plays over a span of 2:31.
The drive included a 34-yard completion to Davenport, and was capped by a rarity of sorts… a rushing touchdown, this one coming from 18 yards out by Mason Glover.
Kristie Elliott booted the second of her two PATs and Simon Fraser led 14-8.
Afterwards, Seiber thanked his offensive line, a baby-faced unit which based on the team’s two-deep depth chart, had eight freshmen and two sophomores prior to senior guard Scott Maki’s unannounced but welcome return from injury.
“For how young those guys are, those big plays we made early are all credit to them,” said Seiber. “We even had a rushing touchdown and I can’t remember the last time we had one of those.”
Seiber, who finished 23-of-50 for 285 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception, added that the game plan played perfectly to the offence’s strengths.
“We had a great week of practice, great game plans and with guys like Riley we were really able to take advantage of our speed and spread things out because we knew we were going to see more man coverage,” he said.
“Going through camp we had a bunch of injuries and guys were beat up, but Robbie (Meadors) made a great play on the touchdown, and Ryan Naylor, he had a hamstring issue but he came in and made a huge catch (late in the fourth) quarter. I still don’t know how he made that catch.”
Extending himself horizontally along the sidelines to make a diving catch attempt, Naylor pulled in the ball and somehow managed to stay in bounds.
The play not only came on a fourth-and 23. it gave SFU, trailing 29-14, a miraculous first down, and most importantly, a chance to make it a one score game with the ball at the Central Washington five-yard line with just over three minutes remaining.
On the next play, however, SFU fumbled, the Wildcats recovered at their own 10, and three plays later, Boddie rushed 87 yards to put the game on ice.
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