NAU Lumberjacks continue hot streak with fourth straight victory, match last season’s win total
By Cody Bashore
With 17 unanswered points in the first half, the No. 22 NAU Lumberjacks had the luxury of playing conservatively from there on and wound up with a 24–10 victory against the Portland State Vikings.
“When you get a lead sometimes it’s tough not to give the ball to Zach Bauman,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “We were a little conservative in the second half, but we did what we needed to do to get the win.”
After entering halftime up 17–3, the Lumberjacks surrendered their first touchdown of the game when the Vikings drove 75 yards to open the second half. Freshman quarterback Kieran McDonaugh capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run.
Up only one possession, NAU responded by taking the ball 80 yards in six plays to regain the momentum needed to ride out the rest of the game. Highlighting the drive was senior quarterback Cary Grossart’s 30-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Drew Emanuel.
The throw served as an excellent example of Grossart’s touch on deep balls he had through the game, despite it being only his second full game of the year.
“There’s definitely some throws I want back,” Grossart said. “I think experience kind of starts to set in from last year. I’m pretty calm this year in what I see and what I can do.”
Grossart finished 24-of-34 for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns to tight ends. In total, 11 different Lumberjacks caught a pass from Grossart.
“I threw a touchdown to Beau Gardner and Drew Emanuel today, two backup tight ends that are great players,” Grossart said. “So it makes it easy for me when I see something, I can just go to those guys.”
While he didn’t have a 75-yard touchdown run this week, Bauman did score the Lumberjacks’ first points of the day in the first quarter when he dove into the endzone after breaking outside for a 7-yard run. The junior running back finished the day with 28 carries for 92 yards and his sole touchdown, but also added 40 yards receiving on four catches.
Not nearly as effective as last week despite a similar work load, Bauman faced heavy pressure from the Viking defense all day as they stacked the box.
“It was tough, they had a kind of renegade defense they were throwing at us all night,” Bauman said. “My guys were picking it up, offensive line and tight ends. We just ran hard and I think that is the best type of yards.”
However, the effort to bundle up Bauman resulted in Grossart having clear passing lanes across the middle.
“We just kept going to the play action,” Bauman said. “We saw they were loading the box and safeties had their eyes in the backfield a lot. So we just hit them with play action and we able to go over the top.”
Grossart said the Lumberjacks understood early on the Vikings game plan.
“Everyone focuses on Zach and you have play action passes open down the middle,” Grossart said. “For me, it opens up a lot and today you saw that.”
With the offense taking care of the ball and making plays when they could against heavy pressure, it was the NAU defense again forcing turnovers and keeping the game under Lumberjack control.
“We were real physical up front, backers filled downhill real good and we pretty much shut them down in the run,” said senior defensive end Jarret Bilbrey. “They had to go to passes and our [defensive backs] did a real great job, got some interceptions.”
The Lumberjacks finished their fourth consecutive game without a turnover, with the last coming during the second quarter against ASU, while forcing another two interceptions.
Adding to the Lumberjacks’ day of positives was the crowd size in their conference home opener. After the previous week’s upset victory against Montana, the Lumberjacks returned home to a large home crowd now nationally ranked.
“We didn’t know what to expect this time and we got another good crowd,” Bilbrey said. “Definitely it did help; it gets us pumped up out there. We want to just go hit somebody when the crowd’s going crazy.”
The crowd of 9,107 was the second highest since the Walkup Skydome’s renovation, falling just short of the 9,304 against Idaho State for last season’s Family Weekend.
“It does something to you as a player when you see support like that, especially when it hasn’t quite been here for the last couple years,” Grossart said. “When it’s loud, this dome can get rocking.”