Jacks’ rally falls short in Portland
One hand was eventually what stood as the difference between a victory and a defeat for the NAU football team.
After rallying from a double-digit deficit, the Lumberjacks could not complete the comeback as senior kicker Matt Myers tried a field goal 41 yards out. As time expired, it was blocked at the line — ending the game at a score of 31-29 in favor of the Portland State (PSU) Vikings.
“There were too many details getting away from us [today],” said head coach Jerome Souers. “The penalties, the procedures, some of the missed assignments we had, opportunities that we didn’t maximize. But I love the character of the team, the effort of the team, the way they didn’t give up and the way they found a way to take it to the last minute and give ourselves the opportunity for the win.”
Junior quarterback Cary Grossart engineered a drive that started at the NAU 31-yard line and eventually ended at the PSU 24-yard mark. After misfiring on his first throw of the drive, Grossart connected with sophomore receiver Ify Umodu twice and as well as completions to senior receiver Khalil Paden and freshman tight end Dejzon Walker to keep the hope alive. Sophomore running back Zach Bauman took a handoff to better line up the chance for Myers, even though the drive would all be for naught.
“We made some plays down the field, again [it was] the penalties; we just killed ourselves,” Grossart said. “I take responsibility for some of those and I got to play better next week and we will.”
The Jacks fell behind early due to playing in consistent rain showers as well as a dangerous running attack by the Vikings. Viking quarterback Conor Kavanaugh and running back Cary McCaffrey ran all over the NAU defense for 361 yards. McCaffrey scored four touchdowns, accounting for all the touchdowns the Vikings would need.
“Starting out, it was just a matter of playing our assignments,”said junior safety Taylor Patton. “As a defense, we’re pretty much assigned to a guy. Our eyes are on that guy, pretty much go to him until you see the ball.”
NAU was in an early hole at 14-0 after touchdown runs by McCaffrey stretched the Jacks’ defense and forced them to make some early adjustments. The Lumberjacks would eventually get on the board in the second quarter by way of a touchdown pass from Grossart to Walker, who hauled in his first collegiate score. The drive was keyed by a 45-yard hook-up between Grossart and senior receiver Mike Czyz.
The Vikings would stretch that lead to 21–7 after another McCaffrey touchdown, but NAU would respond with a fourth-and-goal touchdown run from a yard out from Bauman to cut the lead to single digits. PSU would later tack on a field goal to take the 24–14 lead into halftime.
“You don’t want to play behind the entire game,” Grossart said. “Next week we’ve got to be a lot more explosive, a lot more crisp.”
Needing a big play from the defense to start the second half, Patton did not waste any time pouncing on a Viking fumble on the third play of the frame setting NAU up with good field position. That turnover would result in a 42-yard field goal by Myers. The defense also got another huge break when freshman cornerback Randy Hale intercepted Kavanaugh in the end zone on the Vikings’ next possession; though the ensuing NAU drive would result in a fumble recovered by PSU. That Lumberjack turnover would turn into a Viking touchdown that made the score 31-17.
After two more field goals by Myers and the NAU defense stopping PSU on a key fourth down play, Grossart would be intercepted in the red zone to seemingly halt the comeback attempt. Patton then picked off Kavanaugh to give the Jacks great position. They took advantage of that when Bauman scampered in for a one-yard touchdown, though the following two-point conversion try would fail, setting up the need for the final drive ending in the blocked attempt.
“Towards the end of the game we were playing a lot of man and I came up for the run,” Patton said. “He just threw it right to me and I was just happy to be in the lane.”
The Jacks now turn their focus to this weekend’s match-up with the visiting Idaho State Bengals who had their own offensive explosion against Northern Colorado this past weekend hanging 50 points on the Bears.
“We’ve just got to come out to practice, work hard like we always do, pay attention to details,” Patton said. “No one likes the taste of losing.”