On September 7, in the opening game of the 2013 season, the SFU football team defeated the Humboldt State University Lumberjacks 41-27, on the road. It was only one game, and the team still has a long way to go this season, but oh how far the Clan has come.
During the Clan’s winless inaugural season in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), not too long ago, the team journeyed to HSU’s California campus only to be blown out 66–20. That was 2010. Now, in 2013, head coach Dave Johnson and his team returned home victors over the team projected to finish first in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) — by comparison, SFU was projected to rank second-last in the conference’s six-team field.
It’s not quite a David-and-Goliath-type upset, despite the ranking disparity. “There’s so much parity in the GNAC,” said Johnson. “Every week you’ve got to go out and play well, and it’s going to be a dogfight. I think that’s a good thing, our guys prefer it that way.”
He pointed to other NCAA conferences where games end up with 80+ point differentials. “Neither team gets anything out of that,” he says. “Week in, week out, it’s a high level of football [in the GNAC] and anybody can beat anybody.”
Still, no matter how small the upset, there are plenty of reasons for optimism up on Terry Fox Field. The Clan, who lost its starting quarterback, running back, and its offensive coordinator over the summer, had questions going into their week one showdown — and for the most part, they were answered.
Johnson said new starting quarterback Ryan Stanford won the job just before the team’s first game, but hit it out of the park in the first game, “The QB spot, I know we had the GNAC QB of the Year last year, but we really felt we needed an upgrade at that position.” He continued, “And not just in terms of arm strength or athletic ability, but leadership; someone who is a team guy. That has certainly happened with Ryan. And he also happened to throw for 300-something yards.”
Four-hundred and forty-six, actually.
“To see what this offense is capable of . . . It was a good way for us to get started,” smiled Johnson. “But the run game,” he admitted, “was a little bit behind [compared to the passing game]. But we’re becoming more balanced than we’ve ever been.”
But perhaps the biggest question was on defense, where there was plenty of room for improvement from a year ago. “Last year we sucked on defense,” confessed Johnson. So surely there’s nowhere to go but up?
“We have a lot of work to do, but I was encouraged. Did you know [HSU] only had the ball for nine minutes in the entire second half?” he asked, proudly. He admitted part of that was due to a soaring offense that scored 27 second-half points (aided by a 164-yard, three-touchdown performance by receiver Lemar Durant, who is looking more and more like a legitimate NFL prospect). But the progress he’s seen is promising.
“We’re far from where we can be, but it’s nice to start with a win.” One game in and he’s seen plenty of improvements in areas he believes really needed them. Now, Johnson gets a bye week before his team faces Central Washington on the road, a team ranked right behind HSU in the GNAC, on Sept. 21.
“We spent a lot of training camp prepping for Humboldt,” he said. “Now, we get a chance to rest, heal, prepare and plan for another big test. I love it.”