It was a bittersweet ending to a difficult season as the Humboldt State football team overcame a halftime deficit to defeat Simon Fraser, 23-16, Saturday afternoon at Terry Fox Field in Canada.
“We found a way to win,” said HSU Head Coach Damaro Wheeler. “We have dealt with so much. We found a way to win two games this season when some people said we wouldn’t win at all. It makes the win so much better after you overcome a lot.”
The Lumberjacks knew things would be different with third-string quarterback Brenden Davis under center in his first Green and Gold start, but HSU got off to a quick start. Davis engineered a 12-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal from Jose Morales to give the visitors a 3-0 lead.
HSU remained in front for the next 22 minutes as Simon Fraser missed three field goal opportunities, including one that was blocked at the 1-yard line. Defensive back Shea Carstens made his second interception of the ballgame count as he took the Davis miscue 35 yards for a Clan touchdown.
A poor punt gave Simon Fraser an opportunity to extend its lead with 1:26 remaining in the half. The Clan marched 33 yards down the field and booted a 27-yard field goal that gave the home team a 10-3 halftime advantage.
The Jacks’ opportunistic defense made its own luck to open the second half as Isaiah Sires-Wils forced a fumble that put the North Coast squad to work at the Simon Fraser 15.
Battered and bruised after last weekend’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Azusa Pacific, Joseph Sweeney took the field to lead the Green and Gold drive. With his right ankle heavily wrapped and noticeably slow in his dropback, Sweeney fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to Colby Stevens to even the score at 10-10.
HSU’s defense stood tall in The Clan’s ensuing drive and forced a three-and-out. Simon Fraser kicked a punt from its own end zone and the backspin gave the Green and Gold perfect field position to add to their lead. Morales split the uprights on a 39-yard field goal to put HSU ahead 13-10 with 11:37 left in the third quarter.
Simon Fraser answered the Morales field goal with a touchdown drive. A costly unsportsmanlike conduct call following an incomplete pass on third-and-10 kept the drive alive for the home team. The Clan, aided by a pair of big first-down catches from Rysen John, scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run from Jason Nelson. A missed extra point made it 16-13 Clan midway through the third.
Morales kicked a 40-yard field goal to even the score with less than five minutes left in the third quarter, and the scoreboard remained unchanged until late in the fourth frame.
Sweeney limped onto the field with 7:54 to play and orchestrated the game-winning drive. The Jacks devoured clock as they took 11 plays and 4:57 to go 79 yards. HSU’s offense stalled in the red zone, and the North Coast team lined up to kick a short field goal. Simon Fraser jumped offside prior to the snap which led to a 5-yard touchdown run for Tyree Marzetta.
HSU’s defense forced a turnover on downs in Simon Fraser’s next possession to clinch the 23-16 victory, the last in program history.
The Green and Gold defense surrendered 416 yards in the loss, but limited Simon Fraser to just three rushing yards. Standout Moses Finau finished the game with a team-high 13 tackles, 3.5 for loss and a pair of sacks. Finau and SIres-Wils both recorded forced fumbles in Saturday’s victory.
Sweeney ended the game 8-of-15 passing for 142 yards and a touchdown. Marzetta was the offense’s go-to weapon versus The Clan, and he finished with 30 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. Ryan McCombs, Gary O’Leary and Stevens each registered multi-catch performances.