Football readies for Big Sky play at Portland State
The NAU football team begins Big Sky Conference play this week after a blowout victory over Fort Lewis College at the reopening of the Walkup Skydome. With the opening-day festivities behind them, the Lumberjacks (1-1) turn their attention toward what they hope is the first step in a championship season.
The Portland State University Vikings (1-0) are also coming off a huge win last week surrounded by the excitement of a new facility. The team crushed Southern Oregon in a 52-0 win in their season opener, christening JELD-WEN Field. This sounds vaguely familiar to the Lumberjacks, who served a 58-13 defeat to Fort Lewis in the newly renovated Skydome last Saturday.
This will be the first conference game for both teams and each is looking to make a statement to the rest of their opponents in the Big Sky Conference. Despite their similarities, these two teams will have one undeniable difference after this weekend: Only one of them can come out on top.
Last season the Lumberjacks handed Portland State a brutal loss, 62-14, in the final game of the season, which is no doubt on the Vikings’ minds this week. The Lumberjacks averaged a Big Sky single-game record of 10.9 yards per carry and Lumberjacks’ Giovanni Dixon and Zach Bauman combined for 317 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. The Lumberjacks, however, are not letting last year’s victory or the win over Fort Lewis give them a false sense of security.
Bauman, who rushed for 152 yards and two TDs in last year’s game, certainly isn’t letting it get to his head.
“That’s just one game and this is Big Sky play now, so this is where is really starts.” he said. “That game is over, you have to focus on the next week and on getting ready for Portland State.”
The Jacks know Portland State won’t be handing over a “W” by any means. Last year’s game against the Vikings was a unique one, said NAU Coach Jerome Souers.
“They had four big fluke turnovers really early, we got an early lead on them and they didn’t have their quarterback,” he said. “There were a lot of factors that led to last year’s outcome that will have little to no impact on this year.”
Souers knows Portland State isn’t a guarantee and they’ll be looking to turn the tables this year, especially since PSU has a seven-game Big Sky losing streak, their longest in Big Sky history. Keeping that in mind, whose drive is stronger. Will Portland State’s desire for revenge or NAU’s enthusiasm for a repeat win determine the victor? As far as Bauman is concerned, it will take more than motivation to pull out a win this weekend.
“Motivation only takes you so far, you have to come out there and perform on the field,” Bauman said. “We’re both coming off big wins and I think they’re really motivated to do it again just like us, but you have to bring it to the game.”
Souers feels that this game is equally about performance as it is mindset.
“The team that comes in with the best mental focus and sustains that through four quarters will certainly have the advantage,” Souers said. “However, whether it’s pressuring the quarterback on defense or our ability to run the ball and control it during our possessions, there are a lot of factors that will play into our success.”
As far as Souers is concerned, there is no level of complacency entering their first conference game.
“One thing is for certain,” he said. “When you’re playing a conference game on the road, all the aspects of your team have to be firing on all cylinders and if they’re not, that’s how you create opportunities for them to beat you.”