ST. GEORGE – Freshman quarterback Cody Stevenson survived his first collegiate start and impressed a majority of the 3,312 spectators in attendance, but the visiting Wildcats of No. 13 Central Washington University left the field with a 24-14 victory over Dixie State in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play on Saturday night at Hansen Stadium.
Central Washington (1-1, 1-0 GNAC) scored 24 unanswered points in the first half distancing themselves enough to survive a late Red Storm (0-2, 0-1 GNAC) charge.
Stevenson went 21-of-42 for 187 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He found tight end Alex Nelsen (8-52, TD) and wide receiver Nash Fowler (7-49, TD) as his primary targets – the duo accounted for over 70-percent of the freshman's connections.
On defense, Nick Cragin (8.5 tackles, 0.5 sacks) and Keauntea Bankhead (7.5 tackles) held the Wildcats to 253 total yards.
Dixie State took possession in the first quarter after sniffing out and squashing a CWU fake punt attempt on fourth down. The Storm would march down the field and face a third-and-12 at the 17-yard line. Nelsen hauled in a pass near the right sideline of the end zone to give DSC a 7-0 lead.
Central countered with a 13-play, 40-yard drive capped by a 28-yard field goal by Pavel Panchenko.
After trading punts, Central took advantage of Dixie's first mistake taking possession after Nash Fowler fumbled a punt. Three plays later, Alex Cate (11-20, 116 yards) found six-foot-six tight end Demetruis Guice streaking toward the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard score.
The Wildcats pushed the lead to 17-7 on a Jared Silva-Purcell interception turned pick-six from 15 yards.
A sustained CWU drive in the second quarter's waning moments ended with a six-yard TD run from Ishmael Stinson making the halftime tally 24-7.
Both defenses shined in the third quarter combining to shut the door on any offense. The period had four punts and one turnover on downs.
CWU missed a chance to pad their advantage with Panchenko missed wide left on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
The Red Storm closed the margin with a 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter. Stevenson hit Fowler in the back of the end zone – the pair's second scoring connection this season.
Dixie State's last-ditch effort was wrecked when Stan Langlow picked off a Stevenson pass with 3:40 remaining.
The Wildcats were led offensively by running back Bryson Kelly who carried the rock 30 times for 116 yards. Adam Bighill recorded 7.5 tackles (six solo) for the aggressive CWU defense.
Dixie State returns to conference action on Sept. 11 against Humboldt State at 7 p.m. Kickoff festivities begin at 4 p.m. at the DSC Alumni House with a tailgate party. The team will arrive in busses at the tailgate at 5 p.m. for fans to welcome them.