Enough fans showed up at the Northern Arizona football team’s Blue & Gold spring game Saturday to form a line around the football field at nearby Sinagua High School.
The Divison II program is too often an afterthought, tucked away in the high country of Flagstaff and playing in the shadow of Arizona and Arizona State. But the several hundred fans who braved bone-chilling weather Saturday to get a preview of what they can expect for the 2011 season is a welcome sight for head coach, Jerome Souers, and his staff.
All 14 practices over the past five weeks, and the final game, have been held at Sinagua High while the Walkup Skydome continues its renovation. It’s scheduled to be ready in time for the Sept. 10 home game against Fort Lewis.
But the venue made little difference to the players, and the fans seemed satisfied with what they saw. Even Souers had good things to say about the spring finale.
He made special note of the play of the defense, which he felt played with “great pursuit and enthusiasm.” And the quarterback situation, as the coaching staff tries to replace Michael Herrick, is promising…”I think all the quarterbacks played better today. They were noticeably improved with their decision-making.”
Herrick left NAU after his senior season as the all-time leader in completion percentage (65.0) and yards per attempt (7.5). His logical replacement is Chase Stangel, a senior-to-be who saw playing time in nine games last season as Herrick’s back-up. The transfer from Arizona State was 5-for-6 for 93 yards and a TD in the spring game.
But Stangel will be pushed for the starting job by another senior, Ryan Nelson, and junior Cary Grossart. Nelson completed 9-for-12 attempts for 81 yards, and Grossart was 7-for-8 for 59 yards. And coming up behind them are three freshmen QB’s, Chase Cartwright, Jesse Perry, and Kyren Poe.
Poe is coming straight to the Lumberjacks from Hamilton High School in Chandler, where he was on three state championship teams and played a couple of years with Zach Bauman, NAU’s talented freshman running back.
Bauman rushed for 1,059 yards and set the school freshman running record in 2010. His 1,000-yard season was just the 14th in school history.
And he gave the fans something to get excited about on Saturday, accounting for 150 yards of offense – getting the lion’s share of carries (14 for 98 yards) and far outdistancing any of the other backs.
The Jacks had to win their last game against Portland State to have a winning record last season. They did it in big fashion, beating Portland State, 62-14, to cap a 6-5 season. No post-season invite, but a winning season.
In that final game of the season, the Jacks amassed 655 yards of total offense. Based on what the spring has shown, it may be awhile before that happens again.
Bauman should make big contributions again next year, but it’s just not going to be the same without Herrick there to pull the trigger on the aerial attack.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)