By: Austin Cozicar
For a moment, fate seemed to be on SFU’s side.
Down by three, with 50 seconds left in the game, SFU probably got a bit lucky with a pass interference call against Western Oregon. With a throw that probably wouldn’t have been caught on third and 24, SFU instead gained 11 yards and a first down to continue their last drive of the game.
Just before that, SFU had been lucky to keep the drive going, after Great Northwest Athletic Conference tackle-leader Bo Highburger forced a fumble from Nathanael Durkan’s hands, only to have Gavin Cobb right there to scoop it back up for the Clan.
Now, a 20-yard pass to Durkan, two catches by Rysen John, and a face mask penalty against Western Oregon had them lined up first and goal, just seven yards away from their first win of the season.
But then, it seemed that the luck scales took an inopportune time to balance out.
Quarterback Miles Richardson had to escape a sack by fumbling a ball out of bounds. The loss of four yards wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but then freshman Brayden Gatland was assessed a 15-yard foul, putting them out of range for any easy play with five seconds left.
Even from the further distance, SFU still decided to go for the field goal. Without their starting kicker Patrick Hegarty — who left the game injured, when Western Oregon took a roughing the kicker penalty — it was up to freshman wide receiver Ethan Beselt to make the 47-yard kick.
It was an admirable attempt by Beselt — who made three extra-point kicks in the game — but it fell short of the goal posts. 24–21 was the final score, and for the third straight season, SFU left without a win.
“It’s very important to understand that to be realistic about the game. I think we probably let one slip away. I don’t think we were beat, I think we beat ourselves,” said head coach Kelly Bates.
It was a loss that probably stung like no other during the season. While each blowout loss must hurt, by the end of the game, the loss was a long foregone conclusion. This was a game that SFU could have, maybe even should have, won.
But in such a tough season, this game can’t be looked at as anything other than positive. For the first time this season, SFU was competitive all game against Division II competition. This was a team that had beat them 82–21 at home. If nothing else, it was exciting football to watch.
“We finished on a high note, even with the loss, just by being competitive in a game of that nature on the road, and I think that experience is invaluable,” said Bates. “What it should show them is that by sticking to the process and understanding the process and the long-term vision, that they showed growth throughout the year.”
Richardson had a solid game, throwing for 238 yards and only giving up one interception and three sacks. The ground game wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a huge negative, with 70 yards of rushing offence — 38 of them by Richardson.
“It came down to the offensive line battling much more consistently, giving our quarterback some time to take a look down field and see the big targets,” explained Bates. “It gave us a chance to work down the field.”
The game started on a series of weird, quick turnovers. Richardson fumbled the ball on the first play of the game, giving it to Western Oregon, who then fumbled the ball and gave it back just three plays later. Then, Richardson tossed an interception two plays later. At SFU’s five-yard line, one pass was all it took for Western Oregon to open the scoring at 7–0.
Neither team scored the rest of the first quarter, thanks in part to a missed 28-yard field goal attempt by Western Oregon.
Western Oregon did end up putting up a field goal in the second quarter to make it 10–0.
Gabe Lopes intercepted a Western Oregon pass at their 20-yard line with about six minutes left in the second to give SFU the ball. Dionte Simon ran it in for a touchdown to put SFU on the board.
Western Oregon answered back the next drive to go up 17–7.
SFU started gaining positive momentum in the third quarter. After stopping Western Oregon’s first drive, SFU marched down the field for their second touchdown, starting at their own 20-yard line. A 12-yard catch by Cobb gave SFU the score.
On the next drive, SFU’s Jaryn Bailey intercepted the ball on the second play, giving SFU the ball back just 40 seconds later.
The Clan took 4:08 to get it down the field, with Richardson running it in for the touchdown, and their first lead of the season at 21–17.
While SFU was able to sustain the momentum for a bit into the fourth quarter, it seemed to dissipate during Western Oregon’s second drive of the quarter, and the defence wasn’t able to put a stop to the Wolves’ rush down the field, and what would turn out to be the game-winning touchdown.
John, who has shown signs of being a go-to receiver this season, put 88 receiving yards on five receptions. Lopes led the team defensively with 12 tackles (seven solo) and an interception.
Hopefully this game can be something to build on next season. While one of the Clan’s big weaknesses was a small junior and senior class, it means that the majority of the players should be back next season — 67 of the 71 players will be eligible to return.
While the season has ended, the work begins immediately.
“Now that the off-season has started, and make no doubt about it, it has now started, [the players] must come together and work their butts off to get ready for next year,” said Bates.
The coaching staff can now set their full-time focus on recruiting.
While there are certainly pressing areas that SFU needs to recruit for — the offensive line, for one — the biggest thing they need to do is add numbers, to have a full roster and enough depth to account for inevitable injuries.
“Everything is about recruiting, we must build our depth and we must bring in another large class and push our roster towards 100,” said Bates. “It’s about creating consistent turnover, it’s about bringing in top-level talent and all levels of talent that will compete to be better and make this team better.”