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College football: Wildcats get best of Bulldogs

ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Starting each half, firing on all cylinders often puts a football team in position to win. The opposite often is true in losses.

ELLENSBURG, Wash. -- Starting each half, firing on all cylinders often puts a football team in position to win. The opposite often is true in losses.

Minnesota Duluth sputtered in the first and third quarters against host Central Washington on Saturday afternoon, allowing the Wildcats to jump out of the gate early and later pile on three scores after halftime in their 43-21 North Central Conference victory over the Bulldogs in front of 3,337 spectators at Tomlinson Stadium.

After the Bulldogs and Wildcats traded scores through the first two quarters of play, the Wildcats looked to add to their slim 17-14 margin late in the first half.

Beginning at its own 24-yard line at the 5:24 mark of the second quarter, Central Washington marched 59 yards in five plays, including two runs of 6 and 12 yards by Johnny Lopez and a 29-yard completion from quarterback Mike Reilly to Jared Bronson to put the Wildcats at the Bulldogs' 17.

Going for the end zone, Reilly's pass was intercepted by Minnesota Duluth's Stanley Edouard, but instead of taking a knee for the touchback, Edouard was tackled at his own 2-yard line.

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"It changes how you call the game when you're backed up," Bulldog head coach Kyle "Bubba" Schweigert said. "We put our offense in a tough position."

Central Washington coach Beau Baldwin saw an opportunity for his team to capitalize on.

"Regardless if they are on the 2 or the 20, we're going to be ready," he said.

Three plays later, the UMD offense put its defense in a tough position as quarterback Ted Schlafke's pass was picked off by Central Washington's Nate Pirak, giving the Wildcats possession at UMD's 17. The Bulldogs forced the Wildcats to settle for a field goal as time expired, and the teams went into the locker room with Central Washington holding a 20-14 lead.

"We were still feeling good, we just didn't play well in the third quarter," Schweigert said.

After UMD punted to open the second half, Central Washington drove 68 yards on 11 plays, ending with a Reilly-to-Brandon Stout score for the 27-14 lead.

On the ensuing possession, Schlafke was sacked by Bret Stray on third down, coughing up the ball as Central Washington's Chris Scrupps picked it up and scampered 10 yards into the end zone to make it 33-14.

Five plays later, Minnesota Duluth running back Marek Seta was hit by Stray, who caused another fumble, giving Central Washington the ball on the Bulldogs 48. Twelve plays later, and with the wind at his back, Central Washington's Garret Rolsma booted a 45-yard field goal -- his third of the day -- through the uprights at the 2:03 mark of the third to make it 36-14.

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"All of a sudden, a one-score game [at the half] turned into a three-score football game," Schweigert said. "That's a tall order."

Central Washington made it 43-14 before Duluth could answer with its 14-play, 83-yard drive, culminating with Schlafke finding wide receiver Dennis Carter in the end zone.

UMD safety Tyler Yelk -- who earned the NCC's defensive player of the week award for his work in last week's loss to South Dakota -- said he expected Reilly and the Wildcats to be powerful in the air.

"Our pressures were getting there," Yelk said. "He made good decisions, which was frustrating. We prepared well; we had good schemes -- they caught us sometimes."

Reilly was 24-of-35 for 325 yards with four touchdowns and an interception for Central Washington. Two Wildcat receivers -- Johnny Spevak (7 receptions for 107 yards, two touchdowns) and Chris Rohrbach (6-103, 1 TD) -- finished above the century mark in yardage.

Schlafke was 30-for-41 for 220 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was pressured all afternoon by the Wildcat defenders and was sacked six times in addition to his interception.

The Bulldogs could get nothing going on the ground, finishing with 31 yards on 25 carries.

Central Washington outgained UMD 459 to 251.

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The Wildcats, who improved to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in NCC, travel to St. Cloud State next week. Minnesota Duluth fell to 1-3. They host Western Washington on Saturday at Malosky Stadium. UMD beat WWU last year in Bellingham, Wash.

"We're challenged right now," Schweigert said. "We've got to find a way to play a four-quarter football game. We've got to find a way to build that confidence."

For Yelk, finding that confidence is the difference for the rest of the season.

"From this point we can go 1-9 or we can finish 7-3," he said.

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