Lumberjacks suffer Senior Day loss, miss playoffs
By Brian Gosset
In what was the most anticipated weekend for Lumberjack football since 2003, No. 17 Cal Poly (9–2, 7–1 Big Sky) defeated No. 15 Northern Arizona University (8–3, 6–2) 42–34 in the Walkup Skydome on Nov. 17.
The same could be said for the entire Big Sky Conference. The two teams entered the contest with Eastern Washington and Montana State in a four-way tie atop the Big Sky standings. Montana State and Eastern Washington both won on Saturday and along with Cal Poly, have its eyes set on the FCS title. NAU will have to wait until next spring to think about the playoffs.
“I am at a loss of words. Working everyday, it felt like it slipped away. For me personally, football is everything; it’s my life,” said senior defensive lineman Jarret Bilbrey.
The Lumberjacks were down by as much as 35–13 before going on a 21–7 run in the second half. Down eight with 1:33 left, NAU’s quest for a comeback fell short when the Lumberjacks could not come up with an onside kick.
Mustang quarterback Andre Broadous kept it for a 3-yard score that gave Cal Poly a 42–27 lead and proved to be the game-clincher with 3:14 remaining.
Cal Poly was led by conference leading rusher, junior Deonte Williams (131.9 yards per game), who attended NAU his freshman year and was named Big Sky Newcomer of the Year that season. Williams rushed for 139 of the Mustangs’ 323 yards on 25 carries.
Junior Zach Bauman rushed for 26 yards on the game’s first play, but would only gain 16 yards on his next 11 carries going into halftime. Bauman injured his left elbow before the break and did not return to action until around the nine-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
“I hurt my elbow again; it’s nothing serious,” Bauman said. “I had the mindset that it was going to hurt regardless, so I rather have it hurt in the game then hurt on the sideline.”
Freshman Casey Jahn would step in during Bauman’s absence and rushed for 44 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown that cut the Mustang lead 35–20 at the end of the third.
“We have faith in our depth; we have guys that are capable of running and they ran the ball well,” said head coach Jerome Souers.
After the defense stopped Cal Poly to end the third, senior quarterback Cary Grossart drove the Lumberjacks 69 yards on six plays and connected with fellow senior Austin Shanks on a wide receiver screen for a 27-yard score and cut Cal Poly’s lead to 35–27 early in the fourth.
The Lumberjacks got the ball back after Broadous’ 3-yard keeper, driving it 75 yards which included two key fourth-down-conversions. Grossart found junior wide receiver Jesse Brantley for a 35-yard touchdown to pull NAU within eight again. But with 1:33 left and two timeouts, NAU tried to onside kick it. Safety Lucky Dozier caught the ball, but a yard short of the 10-yard minimum.
NAU had a chance to receive the ball once again with under a minute left, but Cal Poly converted on third-and-long to essentially seal their trip to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs.
“I’m proud of the effort of our players. Both teams played very hard; it was a hard fought game,” Souers said.
The two teams entered the game leading the conference on both sides of the ball in rushing, with Cal Poly leading on offense and NAU on defense. NAU entered the game only allowing 90 rushing yards per game.
“Some of the linebackers had trouble with the misdirection,” Souers said. “You can’t let a team like that run the football.”
All day, the Mustangs ran different variations of the triple-option and at times even ran the pistol formation. The Lumberjacks’ defense had no answers.
“It started off real fast. To a triple-option team, a fast team, I thought we did good against the run early,” Bilbrey said.
Cal Poly went into halftime up 21–13.
Senior Brandon Phillips got the scoring going with a 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown, after junior Blair Wishom forced Broadous to fumble the ball.
On the ensuing drive, Cal Poly produced a 12 play, 75-yard drive that ended in a Kristaan Ivory 13-yard touchdown run that tied the game 7–7.
The Mustangs would score thanks to their defense and a miscue by NAU’s offense. Grossart’s pass was intended for sophomore tight end R.J. Rickert, but similar to their last game, went off a receiver’s fingertips and into the hands of a defender. Chris Judge was the recipient this go around, returning it 40 yards to the end zone and giving Cal Poly the 14–7 lead.
“They had a good defense, they were 8–2 for a reason,” Grossart said. “Again, like the last two weeks, unfortunately, the ball just bounces the wrong way, they got a pick to the house and it wasn’t a good start for us.”
NAU’s defense would force another fumble, this time recovered by sophomore safety Mike Dosen, and two plays later Grossart found junior Ify Umodu for the 7-yard score, though the PAT would be blocked.
Even though the team is led by Williams, Ivory would score both of the offense’s first half touchdowns, after he ran it in from the 1-yard line to give the Mustangs the eight-point lead heading into the half.
Before the game, the Lumberjacks honored 16 seniors, including Grossart. Even though it was a rough way to end, he had a blast.
“This is tough; this isn’t what you envisioned,” Grossart said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here. I’ve grown as a man and as a player and it’s been fun; it’s been really fun.”