When the senior from Puyallup made the diving interception, it’s unlikely he knew all of the ramifications of the play.
Not only did the play all but seal Central Washington University’s 34-23 win over Azusa Pacific on Saturday, but two days later the Wildcats find themselves presumably in control of their NCAA Division II playoff destiny.
On Monday, CWU moved to No. 7, up one spot, in the national rankings and — most importantly — they are No. 1 in Super Region Four. A No. 1 regional ranking means a first-round bye and a home game in the second round. The Wildcats have not qualified for the playoffs since 2009.
The Wildcats (9-0) posted their second win of the season on Saturday against the reigning Great Northwest Athletic Conference champs. The decisive play came in the fourth quarter with Central hanging on to a 3-point lead.
Defensive back Tyler Hasty, a transfer from Oregon State University, tipped a pass and safety Max McIntosh, a senior from Rogers High, made a diving interception. Minutes later, Central had a 10-point lead thanks to a 5-yard pass from quarterback Reilly Hennessey to tight end Samuel Sanchez.
“That did turn the momentum,” senior linebacker Sean Elledge told the Yakima Herald. “That really decided the game.”
Hennessey told the newspaper, “That was huge. When our defense puts us (the offense) in an advantageous position, we have to put it in the end zone.”
CWU scored another touchdown (a 15-yard Hennessey run) in the final minutes before Azusa Pacific added a cosmetic score on the game’s final play.
Central’s remaining two regular season games are on the road. They play in British Columbia against Simon Fraser on Saturday and Humboldt State On Nov. 11. CWU won home games against Simon Fraser, 62-0, and Humboldt State, 55-27, earlier this season.
Simon Fraser is 0-8 and has been outscored 407-49 in conference play this season. The team has allowed more than 60 points in five of its past six games.