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Gardner all the difference for Humboldt
CV grad leads Lumberjacks to playoff berth
JaQuan Gardner and Humboldt State will face visiting Augustana College in the NCAA Division-II playoffs this Saturday. The Lumberjacks last participated in the postseason in 1968. - photo by Photo courtesy of Louis Ramirez

Central Valley High School grad Ja'Quan Gardner and his Humboldt State football teammates closed out the 2015 regular season with a 29-13 win over Western Oregon in front of 2,323 fans on Saturday at McArthur Field.

The visiting Lumberjacks posed for a picture with the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship banner and trophy following the must-win game.

Humboldt State assured itself a berth in the NCAA Division-II playoffs.

"It was a cool experience," said Gardner, a 5-foot-7 190-pound sophomore running back. "We all enjoyed the moment. That's a big thing. At the same time, we still have work to do. We can't get complacent."

Humboldt State improved to 9-1 on the year. The Lumberjacks won the GNAC title outright with a 6-0 record.

Western Oregon posted a 7-4 overall record and placed second in conference play (5-1) this year.

Humboldt State last participated in the playoffs in 1968.

"This is what we worked for," Gardner said. "Now, our real season begins."

Gardner ran for 261 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries against Western Oregon.

Ja'Quan piled up 182 yards and scored once on 22 attempts as Humboldt State built a 17-7 lead in the opening half.

"We were really prepared for the game," Gardner said. "We had a lot of motivation going into it. It's a credit to our coaching staff. Everybody did their job. We got a great group of guys in the locker room. That's what makes this so much fun."

Gardner broke Humboldt State's single-season rushing yard record in a 57-14 blowout of Dixie State on Nov. 7 in Utah.

Ja'Quan racked up a NCAA Division-II leading 1,996 yards and scored 23 touchdowns during the regular season.

He nearly eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark.

Gardner also leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game (209.1) and rushing yards per game (199.6).

"It would have been cool to get it," Gardner said. "But it's not that big of a deal. We were just focused on winning the game. It's been a blessing to play this game at this level. It's been fun."

Fourth-seeded Humboldt State will play host to No. 5 Augustana College of Illinois this Saturday at 1 p.m.

"It's the first time in over 50 years we get to host a playoff game," said Gardner, who watched the NCAA Division-II Football Playoff Selection Show with his teammates on Sunday. "It's crazy. I'm expecting it to be a good game."

Ja'Quan has experienced individual and team success at the college, prep and youth levels.

Humboldt State nominated Gardner for the Harlon Hill Division-II Heisman Award.

"I want to play this game for as long as I can," he said. "I enjoy the competition. Everyone still supports me. I'm definitely happy to be where I'm at. Not everyone gets to play the game after high school."