Finders Keepers: Turnovers doom Lumberjacks against Eagles
This past weekend, the NAU football team had a game plan as they walked onto their turf. But things clearly did not go as planned; the Lumberjacks lost their third game of the year, falling to the defending Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) champion Eastern Washington Eagles (EWU) 36–28 in a game filled with costly mistakes and squandered chances.
“We had too many turnovers and missed opportunities,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “It was just a difficult game and a tough loss. We’ll pick up our boots, brush ourselves off and get back to work.”
The first half was a back-and-forth affair with each team matching the other. EWU struck first with a 27-yard field goal, but NAU responded with a 35-yard touchdown pass from Grossart to Paden, set up by a 56-yard return on the previous kickoff by sophomore receiver Nick Cole. The Lumberjacks tacked on a touchdown run from sophomore running back Zach Bauman, making the score 14–3. EWU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell closed the gap to four on of his three touchdown tosses. Following another touchdown pass by Mitchell, Grossart found fullback Jake Hess for a one-yard touchdown throw to give the Jacks the lead. EWU added a field goal in the half’s closing seconds to make the score 21–20.
Offensively, the Jacks appeared to be in sync for most of the contest, with junior quarterback Cary Grossart leading the way. Grossart completed 31 of his 38 pass attempts for 355 yards and a couple of touchdowns. His top target was junior receiver Khalil Paden, who grabbed nine receptions for 105 yards and a score. Bauman carried the ball 23 times for a total of 123 yards and a touchdown, surpassing the 2,000 all-purpose yard mark in only a season and a half.
However, NAU gave up the football five times, three of them fumbles and one by way of a Grossart interception. Freshman cornerback Randy Hale Jr. also muffed a punt return to give the Eagles good field position in the fourth quarter. Three of these five turnovers came in a crucial second half, destroying NAU’s chance of recovery.
“We had too many little mistakes,” Paden said. “The toughest losses are the ones where you feel like you beat yourself and I feel like we beat ourselves today.”
Despite the number of turnovers, the Jacks still had a puncher’s chance to at least force overtime. The offense took over possession with just under 40 seconds left. After a couple of completions to sophomore receiver Ify Umodu, and to freshman tight end Dejzon Walker, Grossart eventually ran out of time and was sacked on the game’s final play.
“We were just trying to get ourselves into position to score,” Grossart said. “Unfortunately, we ran out of time.”
The only score of the third quarter was a 61-yard completion from Mitchell to receiver Ashton Clark, but the following two-point conversion attempt failed. The Eagles struck first in the fourth quarter when Mitchell scored from nine yards out. NAU countered with a 22-yard touchdown scamper from Bauman, aided by a vicious block from Hess on the outside. NAU stretched the lead to eight with a field goal before NAU’s final drive began.
“I don’t think we made any [plays] compared to the ratio of the number of plays that they made,” Souers said. “I thought they outplayed us. That’s a good football team we played.”
The Jacks travel to Montana State next week to face a team that has been ranked in the FCS Top 25 the whole season. NAU has defeated Montana in the last two meetings, including one against a ranked Bobcats squad.