It came down to two legs.
Garrett Rolsma’s leg came through for the Central Washington University Wildcats. Kelly Morgan’s came up short for Western Oregon.
Rolsma’s 44-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining capped an improbable comeback for the Wildcats, ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, as they nipped the Wolves, 23-21, before 5,374 fans Saturday at Qwest Field in Seattle.
“It takes all of us to win it,” said Rolsma, a Curtis High graduate. “I had the last shot, and I did it. The way our season is going, we can’t take a loss. I had to make that one.”
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For 30 minutes, it was unranked Western Oregon that looked like the more highly regarded football team.
But facing its largest halftime deficit in more than a year, Central Washington roared back in the second half to remain unbeaten at 8-0 overall, 3-0 in the GNAC.
The Wolves led 21-0 at halftime, the largest halftime deficit the Wildcats had faced since a national quarterfinal loss to Grand Valley State on Dec. 1, 2007.
The last time prior to Saturday that CWU won a game when trailing by 21 or more was Oct. 30, 2005. That day, the Wildcats came back from a 28-7 deficit at Western Washington to beat the Vikings, 31-28.
On Saturday, CWU erased the first 17 points of the deficit in less than 10 minutes.
Backup quarterback Cole Morgan came off the bench to start the third quarter, and he immediately went to work. Morgan capped a 70-yard drive with a 46-yard strike to Justin Helwege to make it 21-7.
Rolsma kicked a 32-yard field goal later in the quarter. Then, safety Jerome Williams intercepted Wolves quarterback Josh Riddell and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-17.
Rolsma’s second field goal of the half, with 7:30 to play, made it 21-20.
“When we came out in the second half, we were rolling,” Rolsma said. “I didn’t think it would come down to a field goal. I just really wanted to make that kick, make everybody happy and make it a great ride home.”
After Rolsma’s kick to make it 23-21, Western Oregon got close enough to give Morgan a 50-yard chance to win it at time ran out. His kick came up far short.
In the first quarter, Western Oregon drove 67 yards against the nation’s fifth-ranked defense in just five plays, aided by a 15-yard pass interference call. D.J. Jackson romped 15 yards through the middle of the Central defense for the game’s first touchdown.
Seven minutes later, Jackson went in again.
Then, on the Wildcats’ first play from scrimmage following the kickoff, Gavin Romanick intercepted a Ryan Robertson pass intended for senior receiver Johnny Spevak. Romanick returned it 60 yards for another score and a 21-0 WOU lead.
Spevak had four catches in the first half. His second gave the 6-foot-3 Puyallup High graduate the school record for career all-purpose yards with 4,198. That eclipsed the record of 4,178 yards set by Dan Murphy from 1996 to 1999.
Two catches later, Spevak became the first Central player to surpass 4,000 yards receiving in a career with 4,012. Spevak left the field late in the second half with a leg injury.
“The only thing that matters is that 23-21 up there,” Spevak said. “Give them credit, though. They came out in the first half and played hard. They handed it to us.”