The Lumberjacks kept a packed Redwood Bowl on the edge of their seats during Homecoming after the teams thrilling come from behind victory over conference rival Azusa Pacific, 52-49.
The nearly 6,000 roaring fans in attendance had the air taken from their sails early on when the Jacks fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter.
Jacks senior wide out, Chase Krivashei, eased the crowds pain a bit when he scored the Jacks first touchdown of the night on a pass from senior quarterback Robert Webber making the score 14-7.
APU would get the next two scores on the legs of its star running back, junior Kurt Scoby, putting Azusa up 28-7. This set the stage for a performance for the ages.
The game would be decided in the trenches as Scoby was nearly unstoppable but he met his match on this night in Jacks All-American running back Ja’Quan Gardner. Whatever Scoby did, Gardner did better.
“It brings out your competitive spirit,” Gardner said. “You wanna do your best and you wanna play up to par.”
After another APU touchdown, the situation was looking grim with only 36 seconds left in the first half and the Jacks down three scores, the team needed a boost.
They got it in a huge way when Gardner broke off the Azusa defense for a dazzling 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to close the half and give the Jacks the momentum bringing the score to 35-21.
Gardner finished the first half with 148-yards rushing, two scores and almost 300 total yards while his counterpart Scoby finished with 105-yards and three scores.
The Jacks picked up right where they left off in the second half and scored quickly in just two plays finishing it off with a 20-yard Gardner run to make it a one score game.
After another Azusa touchdown, the Jacks made their move. Thanks to back-to-back interceptions by the Jacks secondary and just a few more Gardner touchdowns, the Jacks took the lead 49-42.
Azusa quarterback Andrew Elffers kept the game tied by connecting with his favorite target, receiver Darrell Adams to set up a touchdown.
With 4:30 left in the fourth quarter, the Jacks moved methodically down the field to set up a gut wrenching go-ahead 47-yard field goal attempt by junior kicker Jose “Pepe” Morales.
“Going out there I had a lot of thoughts in my head,” Morales said. “As soon as the snap came, it just all went away and once I saw it come off my foot and looked up at it, I knew it was good.”
The crowd erupted as the kick sailed through the uprights to put the Jacks up for good despite a final push by Azusa in the games final seconds.
Gardner broke almost all of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference records with his Hall of Fame performance Saturday night. He broke the GNAC’s all-time career records for touchdowns (67), scoring (402), all-purpose yards (6,366), and rushing yards (5,124).
The senior star also set a new GNAC single-game record for scoring with six touchdowns for 36 points and total yards with 446 (293 rushing, 3 receiving and 150 kick return).
HSU remains at home to host Western Oregon next Saturday Oct. 21 at the Redwood Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The Jacks were the veteran group against Azusa and have leaders at all the right spots who were willing to do whatever it took to get that win.
“It says a great deal about the character of our kids,” Coach Smith said. “It’s a never give up group. They get down and they still believe.”