Lumberjacks downed in final game
Coming off a disappointing finish against Weber State, the NAU football team was not able to rebound against the Southern Utah (SUU) Thunderbirds, falling to the future Big Sky Conference member 27—24 in front of 4,398 people at the Walkup Skydome. NAU finished the year 4—7 while SUU ended at 6—5.
“That was a great college football game, but disappointing from our side of it,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “But, we credit our opponent at the same time.”
Junior quarterback Cary Grossart was not at his best for most of the game, finishing 21-of-33 for 187 yards and one touchdown. His top target on the afternoon was senior receiver Khalil Paden, who caught nine passes for 55 yards. The Jacks once again relied heavily on sophomore running back Zach Bauman, because he ran for 157 yards on 19 carries, scoring two touchdowns in the process. Bauman missed out on a third score when he coughed up the pigskin near the goal line. His performance placed him in third on the school’s all-time single season rushing list.
NAU jumped out to a two touchdown lead behind the legs of Bauman, who had scoring runs of 20 and 64 yards to pace his team in the early going. The 64-yard run was perhaps his best run of the season as the Chandler, Ariz. native stiff-armed, spun and broke seven tackles on his way to paydirt. SUU finally got on the board to start the second half with a 23-yard field goal before NAU regained their 14-point advantage with a 23-yard boot of their own from senior kicker Matt Myers.
The Thunderbirds notched their first touchdown off a 27-yard completion from quarterback Brad Sorensen to receiver Jared Ursua, trimming the Jacks’ lead to 17—10 heading into halftime.
SUU knotted up the contest at 17 when running back Henna Brown pounded his way from a yard out capping a four play, 35 yard drive after a big punt return set the Thunderbirds up in tremendous field position. The tie lasted until early in the fourth quarter when SUU tight end Aiono Abbel eluded the NAU defense for a 60-yard touchdown reception, putting the Thunderbirds up 24—17. Another Cook field goal extended their advantage to 10 points with under seven minutes remaining.
SUU scored 24 unanswered points after falling behind by 14, making some changes to their offensive scheme to counter NAU’s defensive tendencies.
“They ended doing a lot more boots and plays we hadn’t seen before on game film,” said senior defensive lineman Dan Pela. “There were a few execution issues and they would blow a big play all of a sudden on us.”
There was some fight left in the Lumberjacks as Grossart found a rhythm late, leading a drive and completing seven passes along the way to four different receivers. The junior found sophomore receiver Ify Umodu in the back of the end zone, threading the needle between three SUU defenders on the 11-yard strike, cutting the lead to three with 3:01 remaining.
After stopping SUU on consecutive power run plays and using two timeouts, NAU then gave up a 29-yard completion, which essentially put the game away.
“You look at how close we’ve been in a lot of these games [and] it’s disappointing,” Grossart said. “Going into the offseason, we’re close. We’re right there.”
The Jacks will graduate 17 seniors, including most of the offensive and defensive lines, who have most likely played their final game. Key losses will be Paden, linebacker Scott McKeever, and kicker Matt Myers.