Wildcat Repeat: CWU Top Cat In Preseason Football Poll
The Wildcats finished 2017 with an 11-1 overall record and were the No. 1 seed in Super Region 4 in the NCAA Playoffs.
The Wildcats finished 2017 with an 11-1 overall record and were the No. 1 seed in Super Region 4 in the NCAA Playoffs.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

PORTLAND, Ore. – Central Washington put together one of the best seasons in GNAC football history in 2017. Conference coaches believe the Wildcats will do it all over again.

The Wildcats received four of five first-place votes to take the top spot in the 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Football Coaches Poll. Central Washington received 24 points in the poll after going 11-1 last year and a perfect 8-0 in conference play.

The Wildcats are also receiving national recognition, picking up the No. 6 position the College Football America Yearbook’s Division II Preseason Poll and No. 11 in Street & Smith’s preseason rankings.

Azusa Pacific, which finished third in the GNAC last year, picked up the other first-place vote and four second-place votes to finish second in the poll with 21 points. Western Oregon is picked third (14 pts.), followed by Humboldt State (11 pts.) and Simon Fraser (5 pts.).

Central Washington posted just the second undefeated regular season record in conference history, matching its 8-0 conference mark with an 11-0 regular season record. Solid on both sides of the ball, the Wildcats outscored opponents by an average of 22 points per game and led Division II in rushing defense (44.6 yards allowed per game) and team tackles for loss (10.7 per game). Central Washington led the GNAC in both scoring defense (17.6 points per game) and total defense (259.9 yards per game) while also leading the conference in rushing yardage (243.1 per game).

The Wildcats return eight starters on offense, including a number of key skill players. Senior Reilly Hennessey was a difference-maker at quarterback after transferring from Division I-FCS Eastern Washington. Hennessey finished third in the GNAC in total offense, averaging 261.3 yards per game, while throwing for 28 touchdowns and rushing for five more. His pass efficiency rating of 159.5 is the highest of the conference’s returning quarterbacks. Senior offensive lineman James Moore earned Second Team D2CCA All-American honors while junior Nicholas Streubel was a First Team D2CCA All-Super Region 4 selection. Senior kicker Gavin Todd returns after making 10 of 14 field goals last year.

On defense, senior defensive lineman Tyler Hasty returns after earning First Team All-American honors by both the D2CCA and Associated Press last year. Hasty led the GNAC with eight interceptions, ranked fourth in Division II with 0.7 interceptions per game and 10th in passes defended (1.6 per game) to go along with 48 tackles. Junior defensive lineman Billy Greer earned Second Team D2CCA All-Super Region 4 honors after finishing seventh in Division II with 1.10 sacks per game (12 total) and was second in the GNAC with 15 tackles for loss. The Wildcats also return all-conference players in senior defensive lineman Elisha Pa’aga and junior defensive back Darien Williams.

The champion in three of the six years it has been in the GNAC, Azusa Pacific was picked to win it all in 2017. The Cougars, however, came out on the losing end of four close contests to both Central Washington and Humboldt State. Azusa Pacific finished second in the GNAC in scoring offense (41.4 points per game) and led the conference in both kickoff returns (24.2 yards per return) and pass defense (204.6 yards allowed per game). The Cougars were the most efficient GNAC team inside the 20-yard line, ranking 20th in Division II in red zone offense (88.5 percent).

Azusa Pacific and Central Washington each went 3-0 in non-conference play, helping lead the GNAC to a 9-2 record in non-conference games against Division II opponents.

Like Central Washington, Azusa Pacific returns a great deal of experience on both sides of the ball. Junior wide receiver Weston Carr was a consensus First Team All-American after he led the GNAC and was second in Division II with 132.5 receiving yards per game. Carr also finished third in Division II with 15 receiving touchdowns. Senior center Sakalaia Hungalu will anchor an experienced Azusa Pacific offensive line. The First Team All-GNAC selection was a major factor on a line that allowed just 23 sacks in 2017. Senior kicker Jacob Hall earned First Team All-GNAC honors after making 7 of 8 field goal attempts and averaged 40.1 yards per punt.

Senior linebacker Aaron Berry leads a quartet of returning All-GNAC defensive players. Berry earned first-team honors after he led the team with 84 tackles and 12 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Adrian Shocks was a Second Team All-GNAC pick, finishing second for APU with 79 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Senior linebackers Willie Fair and Ma’ake Muti, both second-team selections, each finished with 38 tackles while Second Team All-GNAC cornerback Lavell Thomas had three interceptions, the most of any returning APU player.

Picked third after finishing in fourth place last year, Western Oregon hopes that experience will help it climb in the standings. The Wolves finished 2017 averaging 369.1 yards per game and excelled in the passing game, averaging 263.6 yards per game in the air. Of the team’s 34 touchdowns, 21 came in the passing game. To move up, however, the Wolves will have to replace a pair of talented skill players in wide receiver Paul Revis and defensive lineman Michael Kluge.

Junior running back Devon Fortier is the most experienced returner on offense, carrying 81 times for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Senior tight end Caleb Tingstad made the most of his touches, scoring four touchdowns. The Wolves are bolstered by the return of a pair of experienced kickers. Senior Adrian Saltana made 12 of 18 field goal attempts, including a long of 48 yards, while junior Nate Osborn averaged 37 yards per punt.

Senior linebacker Bo Highburger is the Wolves’ most decorated and experienced returner. The First Team All-GNAC selection finished tied with GNAC Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Haynes with 100 tackles, which included 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, and finished 10th in Division II with three fumble recoveries. Junior linebacker Andrew Weber was second for WOU with 83 tackles and had seven tackles for loss and four interceptions. Sophomore defensive back Curtis Anderson also had four picks while adding 43 tackles.

Thanks to the dynamic offensive quartet of Ja’Quan Gardner, Robert Webber, Chase Krivashei and Alex Cappa, Humboldt State was one of the top offenses in Division II in 2017. The Lumberjacks led the GNAC and was ninth in Division II in total offense at 488.3 yards per game. The team’s 45.1 points per game was fourth nationally and their 315.5 passing yards per game was ninth. Humboldt State finished 8-2 overall and 6-2 in GNAC play, with both losses coming to Central Washington.

Despite the losses of the four offensive stalwarts, Humboldt State will look to finish strong with a young lineup. The school announced in July that it will discontinue its intercollegiate football program following the 2018 season.

Humboldt State’s most experienced players come on defense and special teams. Senior kicker Jose Morales earned First Team All-GNAC for his work on both field goals and point-after attempts. He made 5 of 8 field goals and 58 of 60 point-after attempts. Senior linebacker Curtis Williams earned Honorable Mention All-GNAC honors after finishing with 43 tackles, six for loss and three sacks. Junior running back Isaiah Hall leads the offensive returners after carrying 48 times for 245 yards and three touchdowns in 2017.

While Humboldt State faces the end, Simon Fraser is looking to a new beginning under first-year head coach Thomas Ford. The Clan, looking for its first win since 2014, finished 2017 averaging 227.1 yards per game and saw two games end with defeats of six points or less.

The Clan returns a number of experienced starters on both sides of the ball. Junior Gavin Cobb received Second Team All-GNAC honors as both a wide receiver and kick returner. He averaged 36 receiving yards per game with three touchdowns while finishing with 1,048 yards on 48 kick returns. Senior quarterback Miles Richardson averaged 199 passing yards per game and threw for 10 touchdowns. Simon Fraser also returns the GNAC Freshman of the Year in offensive lineman Braydan Gatland and a pair of Honorable Mention All-GNAC selections in defensive linemen Brad Lyons and Kyle Wilson.

All five GNAC teams open the season on Sat., Sept. 1. Three open with home games as Western Oregon hosts Angelo State, Simon Fraser hosts Division III Willamette and Azusa Pacific hosts West Texas A&M. Humboldt State opens at Midwestern State while Central Washington opens at Division I-FCS power Eastern Washington.

Rank Team (1st Place Votes) 2017 Record GNAC Record (Finish) Points
1. Central Washington (4) 11-1 8-0 (1st) 24
2. Azusa Pacific (1) 7-4 4-4 (3rd) 21
3. Western Oregon 3-8 2-6 (4th) 14
4. Humboldt State 8-2 6-2 (2nd) 11
5. Simon Fraser 0-10 0-8 (5th) 5
Points awarded on 5-4-3-2-1 basis.