Jacks ruffle Skyhawks’ feathers in Dome reopening
The NAU football team debuted their newly-renovated Walkup Skydome in a big fashion, blowing out the Fort Lewis College (FLC) Skyhawks 58–13 in front of 7,108 fans.
“We came into this game wanting to improve on some of the deficiencies we had in the first game,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “Coming into this week, we wanted to be more consistent, more explosive.”
A week after having a quality debut against Arizona, senior quarterback Cary Grossart lit up the FLC defense for 271 yards and three touchdown tosses before being removed in the third quarter, with the Jacks comfortably ahead. His top target of the afternoon was sophomore receiver Ify Umodu who hauled in seven catches for 149 yards and a couple of scores.
The vaunted rushing attack of sophomore Zach Bauman and junior Giovannie Dixon also had a big day, with Bauman carrying the ball 13 times for 94 yards and Dixon getting six touches, rushing for 136 yards, a 22.7 yards-per-carry average. Bauman recorded one touchdown while his running mate accounted for two.
“We didn’t want to open up the whole playbook,” Grossart said. “We want to save some for conference [play]. We had some shot plays that we took. Just to come out and execute and keep playing in a rhythm was big.”
The Lumberjacks were in sync from their opening drive, marching down the field in six plays, taking only 3:22 for Grossart to find a wide-open Khalil Paden for a 28-yard end zone strike to take a 7–0 lead. After forcing a Skyhawk punt, NAU quickly jumped back on FLC by way of a 58 yard touchdown pass from Grossart to a streaking Umodu, the sophomore’s first score of the season.
“They [the receivers] did great,” Grossart said. “Just to be able to drop back and find those guys, they’re great route runners and obviously, possession receivers. To have those guys make plays is comforting for me.”
After the Skyhawks finally got on the board with a 31-yard field goal from freshman Ryan Baldwin, NAU’s freshman running back, Jamaal Perkins, returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to pay dirt, bringing the advantage to 20–3 after the extra point snap was bobbled. The Jacks eventually ended the half with a 37–10 lead courtesy of touchdown runs by Dixon and Bauman, and a 46-yard field goal by senior kicker Matt Myers. FLC would get their score on a quarterback sneak to open the second quarter.
The Jacks began the second half pounding away at the FLC defense, attacking the Skyhawk front line with both Dixon and Bauman getting their fair share of carries to open the frame. Dixon rushed for an 82-yard score to increase NAU’s lead to 41 points and put the game away for good. The scamper tied the fourth-longest play from scrimmage in school history.
“We had a real great game, shout-out to the offensive line,” Bauman said. “We hit on all cylinders today but taking care of the football is something we should work on a little more.”
The shoddy ball security by the Lumberjacks was a concern as NAU coughed up the football on three occasions. The Skyhawks pounced on those opportunities to give themselves good field position through the first half. A silver lining on the sloppy play was FLC was only able to get a single field goal off those turnovers.
The defense also had some communication breakdowns that seemed to give FLC some hope early in the first half, including a couple of down-field passes putting the Skyhawks in good field position. In addition, the defense also held the Division II program to a mere 244 yards compared to the 622 yards NAU amassed. Though they did not record an interception, there were plenty of chances that slipped through defensive hands. There was, however, a fumble recovery deep in FLC territory that led to a touchdown.
The Jacks continue their season next week when they will open up Big Sky Conference play with a road contest against the Portland State Vikings. NAU has defeated the Vikings in their last two meetings by wide margins and will look to keep it that way Saturday afternoon.