NAU smothers Idaho State in Big Sky football opener

Nothing like starting at the top.  Northern Arizona’s 32-7 win over Idaho State puts them at the top of the Big Sky Conference rankings.

It was the Lumberjacks’ conference opener, so they’re off to a 1-0 start.  The only other Big Sky team that started with a win this weekend was Montana State, which beat Eastern Washington, 30-12.

In the process, the Jacks threw a big wet blanket over Idaho State’s Homecoming Day.  You’d think by now the Bengals would find someone else to schedule for Homecoming since NAU has spoiled the last three.

And it was in front of the largest crowd that Holt Arena in Pocatello has seen since October of 2008.  But the 6,600 that showed up for Saturday’s game likely began leaving early.

NAU managed to muffle whatever noise the home crowd could manage Saturday night, dashing hopes right away by scoring on its opening drive on a field goal by Matt Myers that capped a long drive that consumed more than half the first quarter.  Myers would finish the night with three successful field goals.

The Jacks went into the locker room up 15-0 at the half, and then opened the second half in the same way they began the game, by scoring on their first possession.  Zach Bauman toted the ball the final four yards of a 10-play, 72-yard drive and the Jacks were already in the process of wrapping up the win.

A Bengal fumble in the third quarter that was covered by Matt Estrada sealed the win, as the subsequent score by Nick Larson ran the tally to 29-0 just before the final quarter started.

Michael Herrick, NAU’s senior signal caller, connected on 21 of 36 pass attempts for 210 yards and two touchdowns.  He completed passes to eight different receivers, with senior wide receiver Daiveun Curry-Chapman leading the way with six receptions for 65 yards.

Bauman, the freshman running back from Hamilton High School, handled the work load on the ground, rushing 21 times for 112 yards.

The Jacks’ offense was 5-for-5 in capitalizing on red zone opportunities, finishing the night with 369 yards.

But the Lumberjack defense also showed why it entered the game ranked fifth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing the Bengals just 37 yards on the ground.  They recorded six sacks, two interceptions, and a safety as they limited the visitors to just 151 total yards.

They didn’t allow the Bengals to cross the goal line until there was just 2:41 left to play, as Idaho State was able to take advantage of an NAU fumble and then scored on a 21-yard pass reception.

The Lumberjacks were coming off a bye week after dropping its second game of the season to Arizona State in Tempe.  And that prompted some worry on the part of NAU head coach, Jerome Souers.

“The concern is coming into a ball game being a little off tempo, off speed, and coming out of the gate slow,” he said before the Idaho State game began.

Turns out he had nothing to worry about.  The Jacks started strong and found their tempo early.

Now they need to find it again next week when they travel to Cedar City, Utah, to take on Southern Utah University.  The Thunderbirds are coming off a 42-28 loss to Texas State, in which they gave up a season-high 220 yards rushing and a total 445 yards of offense.

The T-Birds are either going to be down after the loss… or really ticked and ready to take it out on somebody.

NAU is going to have to make the trip to Cedar City to find out which it is.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)