Lumberjacks down UNLV, record first win against FBS school since 1987
By Cody Bashore
Nearly four years after his most recently scored field goal in a game, junior Andy Wilder lined up with the chance to give the Northern Arizona University (NAU) Lumberjacks (1–1) their first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school in 25 years.
“I felt confident; I knew the guys were behind me,” Wilder said of the kick. “The team had made some great plays to get us down there. I knew it was my turn to step up and that’s what I did.”
Wilder nailed the 33-yard field goal, giving the Lumberjacks a 17–14 lead with just 12 seconds left against the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) Rebels (0-2). After Wilder put the ensuing kickoff in the end zone for a touchback and a pair of short completions by the Rebels, the Lumberjack sideline stormed the field in Las Vegas, nine days after an embarrassing 57-point loss at ASU.
“I always dreamed of being in that situation and I always go over it in my head: being in that situation, being clutch and making the kick,” Wilder said. “But I never thought it would be my first actual kick or first actual make.”
After sitting backseat to Matt Myers and Drew Zamora for his first three years at NAU, Wilder took over placekicking duties this season. He had no field goal attempts at ASU and his first career attempt was blocked by UNLV when the game headed to halftime.
Wilder’s past field goal was on Dec. 6, 2008 in the Class 4A Division II football championship game at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale.
“Ever since I started kicking, it’s what I’ve always gone to bed thinking about. It’s just awesome being a part of that,” Wilder said.
The Lumberjacks found themselves in position for the win thanks to a defense that shut out the Rebels for the game’s final 44 minutes and an opportunistic offense lead by sophomore quarterback Chase Cartwright in his first career start.
“Obviously, we had a new center playing, we had a new quarterback playing [and] there [were] some inconsistencies,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “I was really proud of the fact that our defense kept us in it and then our offense, when we needed the production, was able to achieve it.”
Senior quarterback Cary Grossart was held out of the game with a right knee injury, one he sustained against ASU.
Cartwright found himself struggling early on, going 2-for-11 passing with 37 yards through the game’s first 28 minutes. The Lumberjacks regained possession with 2:10 left in the first half and Cartwright connected on six straight completions for 68 yards. However, another three consecutive incompletions, two dropped by junior Nick Cole, stalled the drive and NAU went to the half down 14–0.
“The last drive in the second quarter was key,” Cartwright said, via NAU Athletics. “We came out in the third quarter and stalled for a little bit. We just chipped away at them, one play at a time.”
Another quick stop by the Lumberjack defense opened the second half; senior Austin Shanks put the Lumberjacks on the board with a 75-yard punt return touchdown, the sixth-longest in program history.
“I just caught it, made one move and then I set up a few blocks. From there, it was just good,” Shanks said. “It feels great. We haven’t done this since, I don’t know, in the ’80s.”
The return moved the score to 14–7, and with the Rebels failing to move the ball successfully since the opening quarter, the Lumberjacks were in control.
“The punt defense team gave him a crease and with Austin’s speed and athleticism; that’s all he needs,” Souers said. “For him to hit that run the way he did and finish it with a score was a huge uplifting event in that game. It took a lot of momentum and confidence and [I] felt like it brought us back.”
A missed field goal by the Rebels set the Lumberjacks up for an 80-yard touchdown drive to tie the game halfway through the fourth quarter. Two pass interference calls helped put NAU in the UNLV territory before the Lumberjacks made their own luck.
Cartwright hit junior wide receiver Ify Umodu for 11 yards on third down and junior running back Zach Bauman, returning from a head injury against ASU, converted the 4th and 2 with a three-yard run to keep the drive alive. Another four plays later, at the UNLV eight-yard line, Bauman broke free for a touchdown on 3rd and 1.
“I was really excited; I know 3rd and 1, you put the ball in my hands [and] I have to get it,” Bauman said. “So, a must is a must.”
The teams traded another few possessions before NAU took over at its own 14-yard line with 1:16 left. A Bauman run of 25 yards, another crucial pass interference call on UNLV and a 30-yard hookup from Cartwright to Umodu set up Wilder for the game-winning kick.
“Our big players stepped up. You know Zach had a huge run that last drive . . . and Chase settled down and gave us a very clutch performance in the fourth quarter,” Souers said. “And even though [Wilder] missed the first field goal, I thought it showed great mental toughness to come back and kick the game winner even when they tried to ice him.”
The win snapped a 22-game losing streak against FBS programs, with the previous win coming at Tulsa in 1987. More importantly, the game proved to give the Lumberjacks just the rebound they needed after the disappointment in Tempe.
“We were kind of on a high, I think, and then you know us losing like that, it’s a very humbling experience,” Bauman said. “We understand we’re not where we want to be, but we are still a good team. Being able to come out and get this win . . . shows that we’re really good and we can be even better.”