Wildcats Picked To Win As GNAC Football Makes Its Return
Central Washington tied with Central Washington in 2019 to win the program's eighth GNAC championship.
Central Washington tied with Central Washington in 2019 to win the program's eighth GNAC championship.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

PORTLAND, Ore. – Much has changed in the GNAC football landscape since the conference last played a full season in 2019. One thing that hasn’t changed is Central Washington sitting on top of the standings.

Two years removed from its eighth conference title, the Wildcats are the unanimous pick to repeat as champions in the 2021 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Football Coaches Poll.

Central Washington received all three first-place votes and a total of 15 points. The Wildcats shared the 2019 GNAC championship after compiling a 7-4 overall record and a 5-1 mark in conference games. Western Oregon, which shared the title two years ago, is picked second with nine points. Simon Fraser is slotted third with three points.

The Wildcats ended the 2019 season with one of the top offenses in Division II, ranking eighth in total offense with 504.7 yards per game and 10th in scoring offense with 41.8 points per game. The team outscored its opponents by an average of 12.2 points per game and outgained its foes by an average of 105.7 yards per game.

With as potent as the offense was, Central Washington’s defense was just as stout. The Wildcats ranked 27th in Division II with 15 interceptions and 28th in turnover margin (0.73).

Central Washington was the only GNAC football program to play a game in the pandemic-challenged 2020-21 season, taking a 59-3 loss at Division I-FCS Montana on April 10.

The Wildcats return 10 starters with its most offensive experience coming back in the receiving corps. Senior wide receivers Tony Archie and JoJo Hillel both earned Second Team All-GNAC honors in 2019. Archie ranked third in the GNAC with 59.2 receiving yards per game and scored eight touchdowns. Hillel averaged 36.7 receiving yards per game with seven touchdowns.

Senior linebacker Donte Hamilton leads the CWU defense. Limited to just three games in 2019, Hamilton finished with 33 tackles, one sack and a forced fumble. Junior defensive lineman Isaiah Carbajal amassed 53 tackles in 2019, including 10 for loss, with four sacks.

Junior punter Patrick Hegarty is the Wildcats’ lone returning First Team All-GNAC selection after he averaged 37.8 yards per punt over 49 attempts.

Western Oregon put together one of its best seasons in the program’s GNAC era in 2019. The Wolves earned a share of its first-ever GNAC championship when it stunned the Wildcats in Ellensburg, 36-26. The two teams put together another instant classic in Monmouth three weeks later, with CWU winning the game in overtime on a two-point conversion.

Much like their Evergreen State counterparts, the Wolves were solid on both sides of the ball. Western Oregon ranked 16th in Division II with 242.9 rushing yards per game and 18th with 465.8 yards of total offense per contest. The team also ranked eighth with 17.5 passing yards per completion and 28th in time of possession (31 minutes, 59 seconds per game). Western Oregon led all GNAC teams in total defense, allowing 359.4 yards per game.

Western Oregon’s 13 returning starters include a number of All-GNAC honorees. Junior running back Omari Land earned First Team All-GNAC honors in 2019 after he finished second in the conference with 92.2 rushing yards per game and nine touchdowns. Land also finished with a pair of receiving touchdowns with just 10 receptions. Junior wide receiver Marquis Sampson netted Second Team All-GNAC accolades after averaging 31.6 receiving yards per game with four touchdowns.

Senior defensive lineman Blayne Burnett was the 2019 GNAC Defensive Lineman of the Year and earned first-team honors after finishing with 41 tackles, four for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Junior linebacker Jaylin Parnell earned First Team All-GNAC selection after compiling 68 tackles, including 44 solo tackles and 10.5 for loss while forcing three fumbles. First Team All-GNAC junior defensive back Joey Sinclair finished with 49 tackles, including five for loss and three interceptions.

Senior Curtis Anderson is back as the conference’s top two-way threat. A First Team All-GNAC selection at defensive back, Anderson finished with 40 tackles and led the GNAC with five interceptions. Anderson also earned first-team honors at kick return, averaging 21.9 yards per return. His 636 total return yards ranked 28th in Division II.

Everything is new again for Simon Fraser, which hopes some positive changes will help advance the program. Mike Rigell, who was named interim head coach just before the pandemic struck in March 2020, will finally have his shot at coaching the program. The team will also come home to a new facility in SFU Stadium at Terry Fox Field, which will seat over 1,800 fans and provide the program with a team room and a true on-campus home field presence for the first time in the team’s GNAC era.

While Simon Fraser finished 2019 scoring just 13 points per game, there were glimpses of promise on the field. The team averaged 295.6 yards of total offense per game and was third in the GNAC with 238.6 passing yards per contest. The highlight of the year was a 24-17 win at Azusa Pacific on October 19, the first win over a Division II opponent in five years.

The Simon Fraser offense is led by sophomore quarterback Brandon Niksich, who averaged 214 passing yards per game with 10 touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Ethan Beselt averaged 46.1 receiving yards per game while junior running back Mason Glover averaged 21 rushing yards per game as the program’s No. 2 running back.

Senior Griffin Barrett leads the SFU defense. The 2019 First Team All-GNAC selection led the conference with 105 tackles and ranked 13th in Division II with 10.5 tackles per game. Sophomore defensive back Jerrell Cummings was the GNAC Freshman of the Year in 2019 and earned second-team honors with 30 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Senior defensive lineman Isaac Evans finished with 41 tackles, including six for loss.

The 2021 season will begin on Thursday, September 2, with Western Oregon playing at Colorado Mines. Simon Fraser opens at Division I-FCS Idaho on Saturday, September 4, and Central Washington plays at Eastern New Mexico. Conference play commences on Saturday, September 18, with Simon Fraser hosting Central Washington.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2019 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Central Washington (3) 7-4 5-1 (tie 1st) 15
2. Western Oregon 7-4 5-1 (tie 1st) 9
3. Simon Fraser 1-9 1-5 (tie 3rd) 3

Points awarded on 5-3-1 basis.


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