What could have been “The Canyon City Miracle” ends in heartbreak for APU and their second consecutive loss

Football is a game of inches, and maybe luck. The Central Washington Wildcats proved that on Saturday night and escaped with a thrilling 17-16 win over APU at Citrus Stadium.

After losing their home opener last week to Humboldt St., the Cougars were looking to bounce back in a big way, but came up short in a game that ended in dramatic fashion.

“We expect and anticipate to win every game, but we also understand that we are everybody’s circle game,” head coach Victor Santa Cruz said.

The Cougars came out strong on their opening drive, with senior quarterback Andrew Elffers scoring on a 1-yard run, capping off a 77-yard drive. Central Washington’s offense then proceeded to drive down the field until Cougars senior safety Taliuaki Suliafu intercepted a pass from Wildcat quarterback Reilly Hennessey and took it 83 yards, allowing the Cougars to convert a 23-yard field goal to make it 10-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The Cougar offense from there stalled in the 2nd quarter. Elffers looked strong to start the game, going three-for-five with 64 yards passing in the first. With the score 10-0 early the second quarter, the Cougar offense was threatening inside their own 20-yard line, until Elffers threw an interception inside the end zone.

“There is something about our first two drives of our first three games,” Elffers said. “We have to find a way to score on the third and fourth drives, and keep up the pace.”

The Wildcats offense was then able to find their footing and sustain a long offensive drive. Hennessey scored on an 8-yard touchdown run making the score 10-7. After halftime, Central Washington took the lead on a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Jordan Tufaga.

Both teams ran the ball successfully for most of the game. Cougars junior running back Gavin McDaniel led all rushers with 125 yards on the night. Overall, Central Washington combined for 263 yards rushing, with junior running back Christian Cummings totaling 110 yards.

After nearly two quarters of both defenses buckling down, the Cougar offense mounted a comeback midway through the fourth quarter. Elffers, who struggled for most of the night passing, ran for a 11-yard touchdown with 4:45 left in the game to give the Cougars a 16-14 lead.

“Andrew is a tip of the spear warrior for us, I can’t wait to see him lead us going forward,” Santa Cruz said.

The extra-point after attempt was missed by kicker Jacob Hall, which would have then given APU a three-point lead.

The Cougars then created a turnover and recovered a fumble on defense. However, with a little over two minutes in the game the Wildcats got the ball back with a chance to win the game. On third down Hennessey completed a 16-yard pass to WR Christian Gasca, that put Central Washington at the 25-yard line and an opportunity at a field goal. Junior Kicker Todd Gavin sneaked a 42-yard field goal inside the crossbars that gave Central Washington the lead with one second in the game.

The game was far from over at this point though. After a pooch kick, the APU special teams’ unit combined for six lateral passes, and found their way into the end zone for an improbable game-ending touchdown. The crowd went crazy, the team and staff stormed to the corner of the end zone to celebrate what some were calling “The Canyon City Miracle.”

However, the celebration was premature, and when the chaos calmed there was a yellow flag on the ground as the referee explained that an APU player had thrown an illegal forward lateral pass. The game was officially over and Central Washington was deemed victorious.

“The emotional challenge of this game, we’ll give it 24 hours, but we’ll let this game fuel us and move us forward,” Santa Cruz said.

The team’s players agree with the Santa Cruz. This game was a battle and even though the team has dropped their past two games, they will be ready for next week.

“I like games like this, but whether we win by one or lose by one, we comeback ready to work on Monday,” Suliafu said.

The Cougars football team moves to 1-2 overall record and a 0-2 record in Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) play this season.

They will look to bounce back on the road next Saturday against Simon Fraser in British Columbia, Canada.