Fresno State Rolls to Western Bracket Win
Fresno State Rolls to Western Bracket Win
Fresno State made a huge statement in winning the Western Bracket of the ACR DIAA playoffs, defeating a very good Western Washington side 52-15 Sunday to book a spot at the ACR DIAA final against Kansas in Dallas.
Kansas won the Eastern Bracket a week ago. Jayhawks Win Tense Eastern Bracket DIAA Playoff
Fresno State's ability to open up games and score almost at will was on full display in Bellingham, Wash. Having averaged just over 60 points per game in their PAC West games, the Bulldogs beat San Diego 46-7 on Saturday and Western Washington 52-15 on Sunday. Overall, then, they are 9-0 (including one forfeit win) and in the eight played games, have scored 463 points and allowed 93. Their lowest score was 36, and that was a 36-0 shutout over Sacramento State in the Pacific Western Conference final.
On Sunday, Western Washington actually got on the board first. the Vikings edged into the Fresno State half but Fresno State's defense held firm. Finally FSU was penalized for sealing off in the ruck and flyhalf Max Stone clotted the kick for a 3-0 lead after five minutes.
Most of the next eight minutes were spent in Fresno State territory, with Western Washington getting some scoring chances, but also committing little errors or big penalties to hurt themselves. Finally, with some go-forward and some territory, Fresno State got close, with No. 8 Justin Mata's run putting them in scoring position. A knock-on in the tackle right on the goalline—WWU scrumhalf Terrell Nelson with the try-saving tackle—halted then. BUt Fresno State stole the scrum ball, and after some probes, lock Travis Hansen crashed over. Isaiah Hunter converted and it was 7-3.
But much of the story of the first half was Fresno State's composure in their own 22. They defended well, worked hard to get turnovers, and ran hard to relieve the pressure Western Washington was exerting. Offensively, however, the Bulldogs were perhaps feeling the pressure as time ticked away and the tries didn't come. Little frantic mistakes for both sides kept it at 7-3. WWU had scrums and lineouts just five meters from the tryline but couldn't get it over.
Stone attempted two long-range penalty goals in the latter stages of the first half, but both drifted wide.
At 38 minutes it was still 7-3, with Western Washington having slightly more of the run of play. That was when referee Geoff Freeman ended up yellow-carding two players, Mata for Fresno State and Charlie Funk for WWU for two separate infringements—an off-the-ball incident with Mata and a dangerous tackle from Funk. The captains were told to settle down their teams and play resumed with a scrum to Fresno State. From there Fresno State worked their way down to the WWU tryline and finally the Bulldogs were over. That made it 12-3 at halftime.
Three minutes into the second half Fresno State's lead was extended. The Bulldogs got a penalty and tapped quickly. WWU's Isaiah Mass didn't retreat at all and made the tackle. He was sin-binned for that, and soon thereafter some slick ballhandling put Fresno State over in the corner.
Down 17-3 Western Washington clawed their way back to scoring position, only to once again turn the ball over deep in the Fresno State 22. Western then failed to gather Fresno's clearance kick, and as the WWU players scrambled back to defend, Joshua Jacobsen wrong-footed four Vikings and was away from about 70 meters.
Nothing was going WWU's way at this point. With Mass back on the field after his yellow card, the loose forward found himself down on the ground injured as play went on. Fresno State found a gap and flyhalf Ray Aquirre ghosted through. Hunter converted and suddenly it was 31-3.
The floodgates were well and truly open at this point. Mata fended off a tackler and was in under the posts to make it 38-3. And then WWU finally did get that try, winning solid scrum ball and seeing Nelson scampering wide right to touch it down. Some consolation but Fresno State still led by 28. A penalty, a lineout, and a nice backline play put Bulldog Josh Rodriguez in. Then a massive run from Jacobsen got Fresno State back in WWU territory and Aguirre set up Hunter. He converted once more and it was 52-10.
With time almost up Wester surged over the line only to be held up in-goal. That meant a goalline dropout, which Fresno promptly booted straight into touch. So that led to a scrum five meters out and one more short for Western Washington. The ball was sent easily to Stone who was through. That was it, 52-15. For Western Washington, two nicely-taken tries off scrum possession deep in Fresno State's 22 was exactly what they needed more of in the first half. Their execution early on in the red zone hurt them.
For Fresno State, their patience through a game that was close for about 45 minutes saw them through.
Hunter was excellent, with 17 points, and Mata was again a handful. Jacobsen didn't feature heavily in the scoring, but he was all kinds of trouble with the ball in hand and Western Washington's concerns about him opened up space for others. Up front, Hansen was very active in the second row. For Western Washington, Nelson was all over the place (in a good way) at scrumhalf and carried the energy even when the game was lost.
University of San Diego defeated Sacramento State 53-17 in the consolation game.
This left the hierarchy of ACR's spring playoff as this:
Finalists: Fresno State, Kansas
Regional Runners-up: Western Washington, Texas State
Regional Consolation Winners: U. San Diego, UT San Antonio
Regional Consolation Runners-up: Sacramento State, University of Minnesota