LSC Week 3 Playoff Preview

November 29th, 2023 3:00pm

LSC Week 3 Playoff Preview

Playoff Week 2 Recap

The road warrior Wildcats win again!  After falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter to Bemidji State, Central Washington’s defense and ground game put the Beavers into the CWU meat grinder, with the Wildcats ultimately coming all the way back to win it 21-17.  The Wildcats sealed the victory with an epic 19-play drive that ran off the last 12:48 of the game clock, keeping the Bemidji offense off the field for just a few plays of the fourth quarter and ending the Beavers’ season. 


Now, about last week:

Central Washington wins at Bemidji State 21-17

Before we discuss the rest of this game, let’s take a quick look at the first quarter:

Bemidji State – 3 possessions
6 plays, 65 yards, 2:13 time – ends with a Sage Booker 10-yard touchdown run
6 plays, 81 yards, 1:49 time – ends with a Marko Josivic 25-yard field goal
6 plays, 77 yards, 2:23 time – ends with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Alt to Dhel Duncan-Busby

Alt completed 7 of 9 passes on BSU’s first three drives for 163 yards and a touchdown pass, including a 74-yard pass to Joey Baron on Bemidji’s second possession. 

Central Washington – 3 possessions
8 plays, 30 yards, 4:59 time – ends with a punt
3 plays, 3 yards, 0:54 time – ends with a punt
5 plays, 25 yards, 2:18 time – ends with a punt

If you’re a Central Washington fan, it doesn’t look too good, doesn’t it?  CWU’s defense looked like the hadn’t left the bus yet, Bemidji’s offense was at its quick-striking best, and Bemidji has shown as recently as last week that they would be perfectly fine with turning a game into a CWU-style meat grinder, so this one might very well already be over.  Never mind that CWU running backs Tyler Flanagan and Tre’Jon Henderson were still out with injuries. 

But to paraphrase Bane in the “The Dark Knight Rises”, Bemidji only adopted the meat grinder.  CWU was born in it, molded by it.  And as the first quarter turned over to the second, the Beavers fell into the CWU meat grinder with both feet and, try as they might, they never could get out. 

Taking the ball at their own 20-yard line after CWU’s third punt, Alt overthrows his receiver at the BSU 40-yard line, where (who else!) Tanner Volk took it and returned it to the BSU 16-yard line.  If CWU is going to have any chance at a comeback, a touchdown is essential.  After two runs gained 13 yards, Kennedy McGill found Darrien Gaines in the middle of the end zone for CWU’s first points of the game.  After the teams traded punts, BSU running back Jarret Gronski fumbled the ball away to Brett McCalla at the BSU 44-yard line.  8 plays later, McGill sneaked it in from one yard out after failing to gain anything on the previous two sneak attempts.  Now it’s 17-14 and as much as BSU might still think they can win another tight, defensive game, CWU’s defense got comfortable and the CWU offense began to move the ball on the ground and racked up a lot of possession time.  

CWU then took the second-half kickoff and ground out a 10-play, 85-yard drive that took 6:30 off the clock, ending on a 20-yard touchdown run by Justice Taylor.  Neither team would mount much more offense for the rest of the quarter, but BSU took the ball back with 7 seconds left in the quarter at their 30-yard line and the Beavers’ offense finally began to click again.

Another 35-yard pass from Alt to Duncan-Busby got the Beavers into CWU territory, and two Gronski runs got them into the red zone.  A Sage Booker run on third down and 10 yards gained 3 yards, and BSU decided to go for the lead.  Johnny Navarro pressured Alt, whose pass was intercepted by Josh Flowers at the CWU 2-yard line.  Even though this was BSU’s third critical turnover, the Beavers are probably thinking that they’ll get the ball 2, maybe even 3 more times since there’s 12:48 left in the game.

But BSU’s hopes of pulling out a win would be crushed in the CWU meat grinder.  Here is the play-by-play of how CWU sealed Bemidji State’s doom:   

  1. Starting at the CWU 2-yard line, CWU tried a quick pass but it fell incomplete.However, CWU gained 5 yards on an offsides penalty, then has runs of 3, 0, and 2 yards.First down CWU at the CWU 12.
  2. Then, CWU lost 2 yards on a run but gained 12 on another run.First down CWU at the CWU 22.
  3. Then, CWU lost five yards on an illegal formation penalty, but gained 2 and then 19 yards on runs.First down CWU at the CWU 38.
  4. Then, CWU gained 2 yards on the ground and McGill makes what would be his last completion of the game, a 13-yard pass to Gaines.First down CWU at the BSU 47.
  5. Then, a run for no gain followed by an 11-yard McGill run.First down CWU at the BSU 36.
  6. Then, a 1-yard run, a BSU timeout, followed by an 8-yard run and a McGill run for no gain on third down and 1.It is fourth down and 1 with just 1:50 left in the game, and CWU takes a timeout to think about what they want to do with the game in the balance.CWU decides to keep the offense on the field.McGill calls his own number and gains 2 yards.First down CWU at the BSU 25 and GAME OVER.
  7. CWU would force Bemidji to use its last time out and then enters victory formation, completing a 19-play, 71-yard drive that ran off the last 12:48 of the game clock.BSU never got the ball back after the Flowers interception, and CWU leaves Bemidji with a 21-17 win.

CWU won this game with their defense and ground game, gaining 222 rushing yards and winning the time of possession battle by 43:04 to 16:56.  CWU even outgained BSU by 357 to 345 yards despite BSU’s huge first quarter.  CWU also won the turnover battle 3-0, and each turnover was critical.  CWU scored their first two touchdowns off BSU’s first two turnovers, and BSU’s third turnover ended up being the last time the Beavers’ offense touched the football.  All in all, another long road trip, and another road win for the road warrior Wildcats. 

Central Washington improves to 9-3 and Bemidji State’s season ends at 9-3. 


Playoff Watch

There’s only one game left that matters in Super Region 4 – the Super Region 4 Final:

Colorado Mines hosts Central Washington


Playoff Week 3 Preview

We are at the Super Region 4 Final, and it’s certainly not what most people outside of Ellensburg expected (or even hoped).  Sure, it’s plenty easy to pick Colorado Mines to get to the final, and I’m guessing a good portion of us have the Orediggers winning the whole thing.  They are the number 1 team in the nation with the reigning Harlon Hill winner, after all.   

But Central Washington?  The team that wasn’t supposed to make the playoffs at all after losing to an NAIA team?  The team that got blown out by UTPB the last week of the season?  The team that was down to their third-string running back and whose quarterback started the season as a “gadget” quarterback?  The team that wasn’t supposed to win at altitude against Western Colorado?  The team that wasn’t supposed to hang with the Bemidji State offense?  The team that is taking road trip after road trip?  THAT Central Washington?  Yep, the barely-in-the-playoffs Wildcats are still here, and they have zero intention of being an afterthought this week. 


All games are on Saturday, December 2.  All game times are in the Central time zone.

Colorado Mines hosts Central Washington, 1:00 PM

Records: Colorado Mines 12-0 (9-0 RMAC), Central Washington 9-3 (7-1 LSC)

Series History: First meeting


Team Statistics

Colorado Mines:
Points per game – 52 for; 11 against
Yards per game – 529 for (215 rushing, 314 passing); 251 against (65 rushing, 186 passing)
Turnovers – 8 committed; 28 caused
Sacks – 42 caused; 19 allowed
Time of Possession – 31:26 for; 28:17 against
Third Down Conversions – 57% for; 25% against
Field Goals – 6-10 for (long of 44 yards); 3-6 against

Central Washington:
Points per game – 24 for; 22 against
Yards per game – 349 for (190 rushing, 159 passing); 335 against (144 rushing, 191 passing)
Turnovers – 18 committed; 25 caused
Sacks – 12 caused; 17 allowed
Time of Possession – 32:09 for; 26:30 against
Third Down Conversions – 36% for; 36% against
Field Goals – 12-14 for (long of 46 yards); 7-11 against


Top Players

Colorado MInes:
QB John Matocha – 263/376 passes for 3511 yards, 39 TD, 5 INT; 72 carries for 336 yards, 3 TD
RB Noah Roper – 131 carries for 783 yards, 14 TD; 14 catches for 158 yards, 2 TD
RB Landon Walker – 87 carries for 627 yards, 9 TD; 15 catches for 134 yards, 3 TD 
WR Max McLeod – 93 catches for 1417 yards, 16 TD
WR Flynn Schiele – 51 catches for 748 yards, 8 TD
LB Jaden Healy – 53 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 1 INT, 6 sacks, 3 passes broken up
LB Nolan Reeve – 47 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks
CB Jackson Zimmermann – 26 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 6 INT, 7 passes broken up 

Central Washington:
RB Tyler Flanagan – 170 carries for 1017 yards, 12 TD; 12 catches for 132 yards, 2 TD
QB Kennedy McGill – 81/141 passes for 942 yards, 7 TD, 1 INT; 124 carries for 601 yards, 4 TD
WR Darius Morrison – 33 catches for 486 yards, 5 TD
S Tanner Volk – 115 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 13 INT
LB Brett McCalla – 89 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack
LB Isaac Clark – 41 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks
DB Patrick Rogers – 59 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 8 passes broken up


East bound and down, loaded up and truckin'
We’re gonna do what they say can't be done
We've got a long way to go, and a short time to get there
I'm east bound, just watch ol' "Bandit" run


3784 miles. 

That’s the distance Central Washington will have traveled in the 2023 playoffs when they touch down in Golden, Colorado later this week.  No team currently in the playoffs has traveled anywhere close to this distance, required flights to all their playoff destinations, and had to leave their time zone for all their games.  Such is life for the CWU Wildcats, and such is life for the two Division 2 football teams in the Pacific Northwest.  Between all the travel and injuries to key players, CWU has persevered and embraced the role of the perpetual underdog, reaching their first regional final since 2009, where a blocked extra point cost them a chance to beat Northwest Missouri State.  This week will be no different for the Wildcats – they’ll get on their plane, they’ll touch down far away from home, they’ll try to grind out another win, and claim the Super Region 4 title that has eluded the LSC the previous four seasons. 

Except it WILL be different.  VERY DIFFERENT. 

What CWU will see across the field on Saturday is unlike anything they have seen all season long.  Not like Weber State, not Angelo State, not Kingsville, and not even UTPB.  Colorado Mines, the nation’s top-ranked team, hasn’t been a football team this season as much as they have been a machine – a near-Terminator – demolishing all who have dared to challenge them.  Winning against fellow national titan Grand Valley State in Week 1 and wearing down Angelo State in Week 2, the Orediggers have run the table to a 12-0 record, averaging 52 points a game while giving up just 11 points a game.  Mines hasn’t been held to under 31 points in any game this season (CWU in contrast, has only scored above 30 points in 3 games this season).  No team since Angelo State has come within 3 touchdowns of Mines, with NSIC champion Augustana being the Orediggers’ latest victim, losing by 46.  Mines is led by the reigning Harlon Hill winner in John Matocha, the nation’s top receiver in Max McLeod, and an array of skill players that would be competitive against many Division 1 FCS opponents.  Not to be outdone, the Mines defense is among the nation’s leaders in points per game (11), yards per game (251), rushing yards allowed (65), sacks (42), and turnovers forced (28).  Never mind winning the region – Mines expects to win the whole thing and will be quite disappointed if they don’t.     

So, after seeing all that, let’s see…CWU hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning this game, right?  You mean, like the last two weeks where they weren’t supposed to win either? 

Well, I’m not going to sugar-coat it – CWU’s chances of winning are very, very little, especially if they continue to be short-handed at the running back position.  However, their recipe for victory so far in the playoffs is the necessary recipe to beat Colorado Mines.  I liken this matchup to Super Bowl 25 between the high-flying Buffalo Bills and the grind-it-out New York Giants.  The Giants, led by a back-up quarterback, ran the ball effectively, made timely passes and held the ball for over 40 minutes while a defense coached by Bill Belichick came up with a defensive game plan that is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  CWU has been grinding out wins all season, and it’s going to take something like that again to beat Mines.  Impossible?  No, but it’s going to be exceptionally difficult for the Wildcats.  They need to run the ball effectively against the Mines defense, who has been quite strong against the run, and Kennedy McGill needs to continue showing the maturity he has shown since earning the CWU starting quarterback job.  The CWU defense needs to do its absolute best to keep the Mines skill players in front of them and prevent big plays and maybe get a turnover or two even though Mines rarely turns the ball over.  Don’t fall behind 17-0 to Mines, because it could be 42-0 in a heartbeat. 

Central Washington has proven me wrong this entire postseason, and I hope they keep doing so.  They don’t play a pretty style of football, they just win games and could care less how it looks.  They’re going to need that same mentality and effort against Mines to even have a chance to keep it close.  If this is a one-score game in the fourth quarter, I think Mines, even with their many sixth-year seniors, might get a little nervous and tentative.  It has happened before, in every sport.  Unfortunately, I look back to CWU’s showing against the powerful UTPB offense, and I think it’s a bad indicator as to whether the Wildcats can keep it close against Mines for an entire game.  Mines isn’t UTPB, they are leaps and bounds better than UTPB.  Colorado Mines by 17 points.