Northern Arizona drives past UNDGRAND FORKS — Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers has spent three decades in the Big Sky Conference, a league that the University of North Dakota is finding out takes big play after big play to succeed.
By: Wayne Nelson, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers has spent three decades in the Big Sky Conference, a league that the University of North Dakota is finding out takes big play after big play to succeed.
“We took some chances we don’t normally take because to win on the road in this conference, you have to play the game on the edge,” Souers said.
Northern Arizona played on the edge, rolling the dice at crucial times. And the moves paid off as the No. 18 Lumberjacks beat UND 45-38 on Saturday before 9,472 homecoming fans at the Alerus Center.
It was UND’s third straight homecoming loss. The loss dropped UND to 1-3 in the Big Sky and 3-4 overall. After a promising start to the season — UND’s first in the Big Sky — the Green and White now have lost three straight and face two longtime league powers, Montana and Montana State, back to back.
“We have another good team coming in next week,” UND quarterback Braden Hanson said. “That’s all we can think about.”
Northern Arizona, however, can think about challenging for a league title. The Lumberjacks, the surprise story of the Big Sky, improved to 3-0 and 5-1.
Their win was produced by the hard, elusive running of Zach Bauman and a gritty 99-yard fourth-quarter scoring drive — one that snapped a 31-31 tie and deflated UND’s comeback from an early 14-0 hole.
“It was a typical Big Sky game with a lot of crazy plays; a lot of ups and downs,” Souers said. “The game took a lot of turns.”
The biggest turn came from NAU’s 99-yard drive. With the game tied at 31, UND opted to punt from the NAU 39 on fourth-and-1 with 12 minutes to play. It looked to be the right call as Erik Mersereau downed the ball inside the Lumberjacks’ 1-yard line.
“It was a tie game and we had the momentum,” UND coach Chris Mussman said. “They go down the field and score. And they didn’t take a lot of time off the clock. We couldn’t get a critical stop when we needed it.”
The drive featured the running of Bauman, who finished with 176 yards on 28 carries, and the passing of Cary Grossart, who completed strikes of 13 yards and 37 yards to Dejzon Walker and Drew Emanuel, respectively.
The biggest play, however, was Bauman’s 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from the UND 15. Two plays, later Bauman scored from the 1-yard line to give NAU a 38-31 lead with 6:53 to go.
Souers didn’t hesitate on going for it on fourth down. His reasoning focused on the play of Hanson, who had developed a rhythm in leading UND to score after score.
“Their quarterback was in a rhythm and making good throws,” Souers said. “It’s been my experience that when you see a quarterback like that getting hot, you have to be prepared to match scores.
“The key point of the game was our ability to drive the ball and score.”
On UND’s next series, Hanson was knocked out of the game on a hit by Mike Dosen. Austin Hasquet recovered Hanson’s fumble at the UND 29 and the Lumberjacks’ Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson scored five plays later for a 45-31 lead.
Marcus Hendrickson led UND to a quick score on the Green and White’s ensuing possession. But UND, as has been the case the last three weeks, couldn’t come up with a defensive stop as Northern Arizona ran out the clock.
“You win as a team and lose as a team,” Hanson said. “The defense made enough stops in the second quarter to get us back in the game.”
UND’s defense gave up 568 yards as NAU held a two-to-one advantage in time of possession. UND’s defense has allowed 135 points in its last three games.
“A lot of our problems are just being consistent,” said UND linebacker Dominique Bennett. “It you don’t play assignment-sharp, a back like that (Bauman) will hurt you.”
NAU sprinted to a 14-0 lead but the game was tied at 17 at halftime, on the strength of Hanson’s 7-yard scoring strike to Jameer Jackson and Mitch Sutton’s 2-yard TD run in the final minute of the second quarter.
Hanson was in a rhythm in the third quarter, throwing TD passes of 24 and 43 yards to Greg Hardin and Jackson.
But Bauman and Lumberjacks found ways to keep pace and eventually take over behind its 99-yard drive.
“I like how we battled back,” Mussman said. “It was one of those games that could have gone either way.”
But NAU left with a win and a chance to compete for a conference title. UND now looks for answers and a way to break a three-game losing streak.
“This loss was different,” Mussman said. “This one didn’t snowball on us. We continued to battle. We had our opportunities but we couldn’t take advantage of them.”
NAU 14 3 14 14 — 45
UND 0 17 14 7 — 38
NAU–Ify Umodu 2 pass from Cary Grossart (Andy Wilder kick), 9:41.
NAU–Nick Cole 18 pass from Grossart (Wilder kick), 7:04.
UND–Jameer Jackson 7 pass from Braden Hanson (Zeb Miller kick), 13:41.
UND–Miller 40 FG, 12:14.
NAU–Wilder 24 FG, 5:33.
UND–Mitch Sutton 2 run (Miller kick), :40.
UND–Greg Hardin 24 pass from Hanson (Miller kick), 11:10.
NAU–R.J. Rickert 4 pass from Grossart (Wilder kick), 9:29.
UND–Jackson 43 pass from Hanson (Miller kick), 8:31.
NAU–Dejzon Walker 15 pass from Grossart (Wilder kick), 1:04.
NAU–Zach Bauman 1 run (Wilder kick), 6:53.
NAU–Covaughn Deoboskie-Johnson 2 run (Wilder kick), 4:00.
UND–Hardin 17 pass from Marcus Hendrickson (Miller kick), 3:23.
TEAM STATISTICS NAU UND
First downs 29 19
Rushes-yards 45-205 21-111
Passing yards 363 250
Comp.-Att.-Int. 27-37-2 20-30-1
Total yards 568 361
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 12-133 8-81
Punts-Avg. 2-34 4-43
RUSHING: NAU, Zach Bauman 28-176, Covaughn Deoboskie-Johnson 7-51, Jake Hess 1-8, Casey John 1-1, Cary Grossart 6-(-26). UND, Mitch Sutton 10-62, Marcus Hendrickson 1-27, Jake Miller 4-15, Greg Hardin 2-8, Braden Hanson 4-(-1).
PASSING: NAU, Grossart 27-37-2 363. UND, Hanson 19-29-1 233, Hendrickson 1-1-0 17.
RECEIVING: NAU, Ify Umodu 9-118, Dejzon Walker 6-87, Nick Cole 2-34, R.J. Rickert 2-32, Austin Shanks 2-29, Deoboskie-Johnson 2-10, Bauman 2-9, Drew Emanuel 1-37, Jesse Brantley 1-7. UND, Hardin 8-83, Jameer Jackson 6-105, Blair Townsend 2-25, Kenny Golladay 1-31, Sutton 1-6, Seth Nichols 1-1, Miller 1-(-1).