Bashore’s Beat: NAU Football season on the brink
By Cody Bashore
Over the past few seasons, the custom for NAU’s program has been to start off well and crumble late. While the early season stretch reached further into the year than it has since 2003, the Lumberjacks now face the possibility of their eight-game win streak being all for not.
The triple overtime loss at home to the school’s new “rival,” Southern Utah University, ended the second-longest win streak in school history, and prevented NAU from clinching a share of the Big Sky Conference title and essentially ended all hopes of winning the conference outright to lock up an automatic playoff bid.
What the loss does do, however, is give NAU one last chance, with the whole season on the line, to win a share of the conference and hopefully force the FCS playoffs to select three Big Sky Conference schools. All that stands in the way is the fourth and final conference newcomer, the No. 19 Cal Poly Mustangs.
What could have been the unofficial conference title game between a pair of undefeated teams in the Big Sky has lost its luster a bit the past two weeks with each team taking losses. The Sacramento State Hornets shocked the Mustangs on Oct. 27, with Cal Poly following up with a non-conference loss to Eastern Washington. NAU’s terrific pass defense becomes less important in the match-up, with the Mustangs throwing only 13 times a game and ranking as the third rush offense in all of the FCS.
Cal Poly’s ability to sustain long drives with the run game creates a need for NAU’s offense to hold onto the ball, something it has failed miserably to do the past few weeks after totaling eight turnovers in the past four weeks combined. This season, the Lumberjack defense has constantly been burdened with keeping a game close late when the offense sputtering. Against a team who can dominate time of possession, the defense can not be asked to be out there any longer than absolutely necessary.
Regardless of how poorly NAU may match up with Cal Poly or how the stats may predict the game, it is a must-win with no excuses.
The NAU football program took a massive step forward this season, attempting to prove to the fans they should be respected and supported.
Back-to-back home losses to end the season have caused the Lumberjacks to lose out on the program’s first playoff birth since 2003, which could be more damaging than another four or five-win season would have been.
This team has claimed to be different all year and helped prove so with the win streak. Now is the time to cement this team’s legacy in program history with a win and stand out as the status quo turning point for NAU football.