Football opens season with loss to Wildcats
Such is the way of the first weekend of college football season: a plethora of games pitting small schools against power programs. These contests often result in blowouts favoring the big program, and the season opener for the NAU football team was no different.
Despite playing a strong opening half, the Lumberjacks could not do enough in the final 30 minutes to throw off the Wildcats. They lost by a score of 41–10 in front of 57, 761 fans at Arizona Stadium in Tucson.
“I think we learned a lot today,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “I think we learned what we are capable of doing.”
Despite the intrastate rivalry, the pride on the line and the fact that NAU has played well against UA in recent match-ups, the Jacks struggled defensively to counter the high-powered attack of the Wildcats and their quarterback, senior Nick Foles. The transfer from Michigan State ripped apart the NAU secondary, completing 34 of his 42 attempts for 412 yards and five touchdowns.
“Unfortunately some of the technique issues we had in being able to play their deep passing game is also a major factor,” Souers said. “They’ve got some good receivers. We needed to play perfect technique on them and we gave them too much room and space. We need more of those plays to go our way.”
A bright spot did shine for the Jacks on the night though, as junior quarterback Cary Grossart had himself a fine debut as the starter. After a nervous start, the California native completed 16 straight passes, at one point including a touchdown to senior receiver Khalil Paden to bring the Jacks within four as the first half came to a close. For the night, Grossart finished 20-for-26, amassing a total of 179 yards, but was picked off early in the second half, which seemed to kill any momentum the Jacks had.
“I embrace the nervousness,” Grossart said. “You want to come back every play and just complete passes. I had no idea about the streak at all.”
Grossart’s top target on the night was sophomore receiver Ify Umodu, who hauled in seven passes for 90 yards, including a key 36-yard reception that set up the only touchdown the Jacks’ offense would produce. Umodu’s breakout game comes after a 2010 season in which he only had four total catches in six games.
“Cary was great,” Umodu said. “He got the ball to people that it should’ve been thrown too. He was reading the defense well, and everything was really working for us. Sometimes, the little things just shook us a bit and lost us the game tonight.”
Coming into the contest, many thought that much of the NAU offense would focus on the power running game featuring sophomore running back Zach Bauman. But, for much of the night, the Wildcat front four was too strong and too fast for a young Lumberjack offensive line to contain. This caused problems for Bauman all evening despite the sophomore winding up with 99 yards on 27 carries, with the bulk of the yardage coming against UA’s second-string defense.
“They’re a very physical outfit,” Souers said about the Wildcat front four. “We aren’t able to practice against that type of speed. There were times that we ran the ball well, and times that we didn’t. We’re going to go back and we’ll learn a lot about the reasons why. When we play our level [of competition], we’ll run the ball a lot more effectively.”
UA was on the Lumberjacks from the first whistle. After forcing an early three-and-out, Foles and his offense marched down the field in a tremendously quick three-play, 47 second drive that ended in a Juron Criner touchdown catch. UA stretched the lead to 14 points on a touchdown run by Taimi Tutogi following a methodical seven play drive. NAU finally got on the board in second quarter courtesy of senior kicker Matt Myers’ field goal from 28 yards out at the 7:39 mark.
But after the first 30 minutes of action, UA took immediate control. The Wildcats scored 27 unanswered points keyed by Foles’ play as well as the hard-nosed play of senior running back Keola Antolin. The UA defense also forced NAU turnovers allowing the Wildcats to get into good field position for most of the game.
“Everything was really falling for us that first half,” Umodu said. “Second half was a little more shaky, but we were trying to stay on top of things and pull out, but we did the best we could.”
The Lumberjacks open up their home schedule next week against visiting Fort Lewis, a game in which NAU looks to show what they can do for the rest of the season.
“Next week we’re going to want to score,” Grossart said. “We really want to see what our offense is capable off and come out and have a lot of success next week.”