Dark clouds are rolling in and lingering over the football fields in Tucson and Tempe. But in Flagstaff, the sun is breaking through.
Arizona State just dropped a game to UCLA they should have won, losing by one point on a game-ending missed field goal. It was the Sun Devils’ second conference loss, bumping them out of first place in the South Division and putting the Bruins in the driver’s seat for the sprint to the finish.
The University of Arizona Wildcats lost their head coach when Mike Stoops was given his marching orders after starting the season 1-5. The Cats had a miraculous revival for one game under interim head coach Tim Kish, using a bye week to prepare for UCLA and then running over the Bruins, 48-12.
That moment of euphoria didn’t last, however, and the Cats went back to their old losing ways by dropping games to Washington and Utah.
But up in the high country, the Lumberjacks are playing with new life. After starting out 2-2, Northern Arizona University went into a three-game losing skid and frustration set in as their fans’ faith was being tested.
Now, NAU has pocketed a couple of wins and life is good again.
They beat Sacramento State, 27-26, on the road and then boosted their conference record to 3-4 by beating Northern Colorado by 20 points at home.
OK, Northern Colorado hasn’t won a game this season and Sacramento State has lost twice as many games as it has won. But the wins still feel good, and maybe they will give the Jacks some momentum going into their final two games of the regular season.
They have a chance now to pull off a winning season. The Jacks need to beat Weber State on the road this weekend and then finish with a home win against Southern Utah for a 6-5 mark. Both games are winnable.
Weber State is 3-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big Sky. However, they will be playing their final home game and will be on an emotional uptick since their head coach, Ron McBride, will be retiring after this season, his seventh at the school.
Southern Utah will likely prove a bigger obstacle to that winning record, but a good game by the Jacks could be enough to finish the season with an important win. The Thunderbirds are 5-4 overall, but just 1-3 in the Great West Conference.
Similar to NAU, they have won two straight after suffering through a three-game losing streak. But they play No. 5 Northern Iowa this week, which means they could be coming off a nasty loss when they roll into the Skydome for that final game.
The next two games, and the success of the season, will land squarely on the big shoulders of a local athlete who has been a dominant factor in both of the Jacks’ latest wins.
Zach Bauman, a sophomore running back from Hamilton High School in Chandler, has accounted for almost 500 yards of offense in the last two wins. He had 245 all-purpose yards last week against Northern Colorado, 124 on the ground – and 246 yards just in rushing against Sacramento State.
The 246 was a career-high for the young man who set a single-season record for touchdowns and scoring at Hamilton. It also was the 11th-best single-game total in NAU history, and moved him into seventh on the career rushing chart with 2,087 yards.
If Bauman continues on his season-ending rampage, the Lumberjacks have a good chance to match last year’s winning record of 6-5 and give head coach, Jerome Souers, his ninth winning season in his 14 years at the school.
Which would help validate the administration’s decision after last season to extend Souers’ contract for another three years.
And Souers is likely counting on Bauman being around for the final years of the new contract to help him get over the 6-5 hump and earn another extension.
But first, there’s business to care of with Weber State and Southern Utah.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)