ST. GEORGE – Former conference foe Central Washington, ranked 20th in the nation, is good enough, Dixie State needed all its weapons to have a chance.
But the Blazers had to face the undefeated Wildcats in a non-conference game Saturday without their leading rusher from last week. Blake Barney suffered a concussion and was not cleared by the team’s trainers prior to game time. Without Barney, DSU succumbed to the Wildcats 58-40 victory Saturday night at Legend Solar Stadium.
“Blake Barney was a game-time decision,” Dixie State head coach Shay McClure said. “The trainers felt he was not ready, so we rested him today. We have the personnel and game plan to compete with teams like Central Washington. Turnovers hurt us. We had some mistakes on defense, too. We need to eliminate those if we want to win against ranked teams.”
The game started favorably for the Trailblazers. On the first play from scrimmage, running back Sei-J Lauago broke free up the middle and ran 75 yards for a touchdown. For the two point conversion, DSU lined up in a trick formation with the linemen and receiver Tyler Krepsz at the left hash. Holder Brad Duran took the snap and quickly passed the ball to Krepsz who scored the two-pointer. With less than 15 seconds elapsed, the score was 8-0.
CWU drove the ball on the next possession down to the Dixie State 7-yard line. But there, the Dixie defense forced a Wildcat turnover. After a completed pass, DSU cornerback Tyneil Cooper forced a fumble and linebacker Noe Perez recovered the ball.
The Trailblazers could not take advantage. Seven plays later, Central Washington returned the favor and intercepted the Blazer pass and returned it to the DSU 35-yard line. Two minutes later, the Wildcats scored on a 1-yard plunge and pulled to within 8-7.
On DSU’s ensuing possession, three plays netted negative-12 yards. Corey Stens came in to punt. The Wildcats got a good rush and Stens dove on the ball in the end zone to take a safety. But the officials ruled that Stens forward momentum was at the 1-yard line. Instead of a safety, the Wildcats were given the ball at the Blazer 1. They scored on the next play to take the lead, 14-8.
“We disagreed with the ruling and thought a safety should have been awarded,” said McClure. “But regardless, we can’t keep placing our defense in terrible field position.”
After another three-and-out by the DSU offense, the Wildcats scored again. They drove 61 yards in seven plays, ending with quarterback Reilly Hennessey’s rush for the 9-yard touchdown. With 13:46 left in the half, the lead grew to 21-8.
The Dixie State offense put together an extended drive on its next possession. Starting at their own 30-yard line, the Trailblazers went the distance in 13 plays. The touchdown was a pass from Malik Watson to Kasey Allison in the right corner of the end zone. The snap on the PAT was mishandled and the attempt was no good, but DSU had pulled to within 21-14.
The teams traded punts twice before CWU took over at the DSU 48-yard line after a good punt return. With 2:38 on the clock, the Wildcats utilized their timeouts and clock management skills to get another touchdown shortly before the half ended. They took a 28-14 lead into halftime.
The Dixie State defense held CWU on its first possession of the second half. Watson got the team into good field position for kicker Anthony Reyes at the 21-yard line before the drive stalled. However, Reyes attempt from 36 yards was blocked. Central Washington used that momentum to go up three scores on its next possession. With eight minutes remaining in the third, the lead was 35-14.
A sack and two incomplete passes forced DSU to punt again. Central Washington scored again quickly to take a 42-14 lead with 5:50 left in the third.
The Trailblazers next two possessions ended with interceptions. Just before the third quarter ended, CWU scored again to take a 49-14 lead into the final quarter.
In the fourth, DSU cornerback Trayvon Watson intercepted CWU backup quarterback Tommy Hays deep in Wildcat territory. Dixie State started with its best field position of the night at the CWU 25-yard line. Five plays later, Watson found Josiah Blandin with a 12-yard strike. Reyes PAT attempt was blocked, however, and returned by CWU for a defensive PAT score and a 51-20 lead.
DSU got another break when Hays was intercepted by cornerback Jaylen Moore. He returned the ball to the CWU 11-yard line. Five plays later, DSU running back Jeffrey Coprich scored from 2-yards out. The DSU two-point conversion failed and the score was 51-26 with 9:11 remaining on the clock.
After DSU’s onside kick was recovered by the Wildcats, CWU went to a “wildcat” offense with athletic quarterback JoJo Hillel taking the snaps. Hillel gained 46 of the 50 yards on the ensuing drive, including the final 25 for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a 58-26 lead.
The Trailblazers scored on their final two possessions to make the score respectable. Watson drove the team 75 yards, culminating in an 18-yard pass to Lauago. Watson also connected with Lauago on the two-point conversion to pull the Trailblazers to within 58-34.
After getting the ball back on a CWU punt, Watson drove the Blazers 92 yards on their final drive. On the final play of the game, Watson found Josiah Blandin from 17 yards out to get to the final score.
Last year, when Barney was injured, Orlando Wallace handled most of the wildcat offensive snaps. Saturday, Lauago was the one behind center.
“Sei-J did a good job back there,” said Wallace. “I am staying at the slot position this year. Sei-J is a good north-south runner.”
The Trailblazers outgained Central Washington 442-381 in yardage. The turnover battle actually ended even at three apiece. Individually for Dixie State, Lauago led the team with 117 yards rushing on 20 carries. Allison led the team with 114 yards receiving on 10 receptions. Blandin and Lauago each had four receptions. Watson completed 25 of 45 passes for 284 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Cooper led the team with seven tackles. Mike Jones, Remington Kelly, Trayvon Watson and Moore were right behind him with six apiece.
“We had stretches where we played exceptionally well,” McClure said. “But turnovers, or a missed assignment like a wrong route or missed block can erase that. We need to execute on every play.”
The Wildcats stay undefeated at 4-0. The Blazers fall to 1-3 overall and remain 1-2 in conference play. They will travel to Gunnison, Colo., next week to face Western State-Colorado. Game time is scheduled for 1 p.m.
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