CWU News

CWU Welcomes Western Oregon for 2014 Homecoming Football

Central Washington University has been holding Homecoming football games since 1925. Saturday, the Wildcats will host their 76th such contest, when Western Oregon comes to town for the 1:00 p.m. game at Tomlinson Stadium.

Overall at Homecoming, CWU has a 45-28-2 record, including wins in 12 of the past 14 games, since the year 2000. This will be ninth time overall, and sixth since 2000 that WOU has been the Wildcats' Homecoming opponent. CWU has won seven of the eight previous meetings with the Wolves, dating back to 1972.

Saturday will be second meeting between the Wildcats and Wolves this season. Western Oregon won the earlier game, Sept. 20, in Monmouth, Oregon, 36-34, on a last-minute field goal. That game was not a Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) game. The rematch will be a conference-counting contest.

In the earlier meeting, CWU scored 20 fourth-quarter points and had a 34-33 lead with 3:48 left in the game. But Western Oregon responded with a drive that that took nearly three minutes off the clock to set up the winning field goal for a 36-34 win.

"We're a completely different team, both on the offensive and defensive side," said CWU first-year head coach Ian Shoemaker. "We were just getting to understand what we were trying to do early in the season. We're twice as deep into the season now and have twice as much experience as we had at that point. Hopefully, we're a better team than when we played the first time."

Both teams are coming off victories last Saturday. CWU (3-3, 2-1 GNAC) won at South Dakota Mines 61-34, while WOU (3-3, 1-0 GNAC) was victorious at home 19-14 over Dixie State.

Offensively, Western Oregon relies on the GNAC's top passing attack, which averages 296.2 yards per game through the air. That's the 23rd best total in the nation this week.

"They're pretty comfortable throwing the ball; they're pretty comfortable in four wide receiver sets," noted Shoemaker. "And they have some talented kids out there that can go and catch the ball."

They include three wide receivers that rank among the top seven in the conference in receptions: Paul Revis, second, with 37; Tyrell Williams, fourth, 31; and Kamakana Apelu, seventh, 27.

They'll be going up against a Wildcat team that is No. 8 in the country with 11 interceptions. Redshirt freshman Kevin Haynes (6-0, 230, Battle Ground) leads the team in picks, as he recorded his third interception of the season at South Dakota Mines. He was named a GNAC honorable mention Player of the Week for his performance.

"Some of it is schematics and, obviously, some of it is talent," said Shoemaker about his team's interception success. "We've got a nice group of guys back there athletically who can run and stay next to guys. And we put enough pressure on the quarterback up front. At times, we've scored enough on offense to force teams into situations where they have to throw the ball. When that happens, we're in a pretty good spot to make some plays."

CWU came up with the first interceptions of the season—four in all—thrown by WOU in the first meeting this season. Two were returned for CWU touchdowns: defensive tackle Matt Miller (So., Spokane—Gonzaga Prep), from 46-yards out, and safety DeAndre Baines (Jr., Tacoma—Mount Tahoma) for a 54-yard score.

The Wildcat offense is led by sophomore quarterback Jake Nelson (6-2, 210, Lake Stevens), who threw for a career-high 310 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for two additional scores, at South Dakota Mines. Nelson was also named an honorable mention conference Player of the Week.

"He's doing a great job finding the open receiver," said Shoemaker. "He's getting to a point where he's feeling more comfortable [in CWU's new offense]."

Nelson's favorite target Saturday was wide receiver Jesse Zalk (5-8, 160, So., Battle Ground—Prairie), who made six grabs for 116 yards and a touchdown. Zalk recorded 210 all-purpose yards in the game, including 94 on two kickoffs—of 62 and 32 yards—as he was named a GNAC Special Teams Player of the Week.

"Anytime we can get Jesse touches, we're at an advantage," noted Shoemaker. "He's great with the ball in his hands. That's a guy we've got to keep going and keep feeding."

Zalk now leads the conference in kickoff return average (32.4) and is fourth in punt return average (12.0).

The rivalry between the Wildcat and Wolves is the longest running for CWU involving GNAC teams. The Wildcats have won 33 of the 52 previous meetings, including 17 of the 24 prior games played in Ellensburg. CWU also beat WOU is two "Battle in Seattle" games, in 2009 and 2010, which were played at CenturyLink Field.

The first game, between Ellensburg Normal and Oregon Normal, was played Oct. 17, 1936. Since 1971, with the exception of the 1985 and '86 campaigns, the two teams have met annually on the gridiron, including 18 meetings since 2004.

At 11 a.m., two hours before the Homecoming game kickoff, the CWU Fan Zone will open. Located adjacent to the Cat's Den tent at the south end of Tomlinson Stadium, it features a variety of food and beverage vendors, some also providing games. It will remain open through halftime.

Also at 11 a.m., the Student Union and Recreation Center's East Patio will be the site for a CWU pep rally, featuring university cheerleaders. They will lead participants through campus to the Fan Zone for pregame festivities there.

October 17, 2014