After settling into his new home at Central Washington University, Reilly Hennessey flourished on the football field and led the Wildcats to their first conference championship in five years.
The 22-year-old quarterback from Camas completed 214 passes for 2,551 yards and 28 touchdowns, rushed for 652 yards and five touchdowns, helped Central Washington win 11 games and reach the NCAA Super Region 4 semifinals.
“It was really fun being around these guys as we were learning, growing and winning together,” Hennessey said. “Just seeing that enthusiasm and that drive and determination in all of them to keep this thing going for as long as possible. I think that’s what led to all those wins.”
Texas A&M Commerce defeated Central Washington 34-31 in a double overtime semifinal game Saturday, at Tomlinson Stadium in Ellensburg, Washington.
The Wildcats jumped out to a 28-7 lead at halftime. Hennessey rushed for a touchdown and connected with Christian Stafford and Kyle Self in the end zone. The Lions shut down Central 21-0 in the second half to force overtime and won in the second OT on a 38-yard field goal. Hennessey finished the game with 265 passing yards, 49 rushing yards and three scores.
“It all came down to us. We were in a position to make plays. Obviously, we didn’t make enough plays,” Hennessey said in a press conference after the game.
“I want to thank the seniors. They were able to lead this team to a pretty historic season,” Hennessey added. “One loss feels like it takes it all away, but … if you would have told me at the beginning of the season this was how it was going to end, I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. It was a special time.”
After earning just a handful of starts in his first two seasons at Eastern Washington University, Hennessey transferred to Central Washington and made the most of his opportunities as the starting quarterback.
“You only have a certain amount of time left to play this game. I think that’s what the decision came down to for me. I wanted to go out and play my last two years and have a lot of fun,” Hennessey said. “It’s definitely worked out for me. Cheney will always have a special place in my heart. Central is where I found the most success.”
One of the first Central Washington players to welcome Hennessey was linebacker Kevin Haynes, of Battle Ground. The two played against each other in high school. Haynes, a senior, became a two-time Great Northwest Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year this season.
“He’s just the epitome of a leader,” Hennessey said. “He did everything right on the field and off the field and was a big reason why we were successful.”
Head coach Ian Shoemaker said Hennessey’s efforts did not go unnoticed. He was named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year and also earned first team all-conference honors.
“He was able to make a lot of great decisions throughout the year that got us to where we were,” Shoemaker said. “Fortunately, Reilly is in a position where he gets to play more football for us. That’s the hardest thing. We’re not preparing these guys to play another game and take a step further.”
Shoemaker will miss the seniors. His message to Hennessey and the rest of the Wildcats coming back was simple.
“If you invest in the process every week and concentrate on the opponent, you have a chance to have a great season,” Shoemaker said. “Hopefully, these guys got a taste of that and will be hungry for next fall. This (loss) should be a driving force for us.”
When a reporter in the press conference asked Hennessey how this team moves on from such a tough loss Saturday, his response was filled with passion.
“Just remembering this feeling, and the feeling of making one more play. One more play than the defense made. One more play against whoever’s lined up against you,” Hennessey said. “I think that ‘one more’ carries over to all aspects of what we’re doing. Let’s go one more rep, let’s go one more hour of film, lets go one more seven on seven in the offseason. That is how you take that feeling and turn it into a positive.”