It’s hard to say the beating that the Northern Arizona University football team took last week wasn’t worth it. After all, $400,000 will buy a lot of new game balls.
That is reportedly the amount the Lumberjacks were paid to drive down the hill to Tucson last Saturday to play the Arizona Wildcats and suffer through three hours and six minutes of pure frustration – let alone the embarrassment of having it televised on the Pac-12 Network.
NAU’s athletic department was no doubt happy with the financial windfall. But the coaching staff has to deal with the psychological consequences of that kind of lopsided contest.
And tonight, in a road game against Big Sky Conference foe Montana, they will find out just how quickly their team can recover from the train wreck.
The game (and we use that term loosely) was decided by halftime as the No. 20-ranked Wildcats (now No. 16) hung 35 points on the ‘Jacks in the second quarter alone. Arizona set school records for most rushing yards (499) and most total yards (792) while posting the most single-game points in the 77-13 rout. The Cats put 11 touchdowns on the board.
And in the second half the Lumberjacks’ defense had to watch as Arizona’s second-string quarterback came in to score a pair of touchdowns, followed by scores by the third-string and fourth-string QBs.
Before the debacle in Tucson, head coach Jerome Souers had his team humming along. The ‘Jacks jumped out to a 2-0 start to the season, the first time that has happened in the last 14 seasons.
They started by traveling to Nacogdoches, Texas, where they posted a 34-28 win over Stephen F. Austin to kick off the 2015 campaign. Souers broke in his new quarterback, redshirt freshman Case Cookus, who was given the starting job over senior Kyren Poe who had seen action last year in seven games and was expected by many to return under center this year.
It took Cookus just two minutes and 15 seconds to engineer the first scoring drive of the new season, a six-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 57-yard TD pass to sophomore wide receiver Emmanuel Butler. Cookus, a California import, finished the game 13-for-18 with three touchdowns, and Butler, from Mounain Pointe High School in Phoenix, had a career night with 216 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
The second game was the NAU home opener against New Mexico Highlands and the offense spread the scoring around, as the team generated 418 yards of offense and had five different players that scored in the 41-5 romp. The defense stepped up, holding the Cowboys to just 43 yards of offense and Cookus continued to prove he deserved the starting job by throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns.
But can the Lumberjacks get back on that winning track now that the ‘real’ games start? Montana is the first opponent on the Big Sky Conference schedule – and a tough one to start with. The Grizzlies are ranked No. 14 in the national FCS standings.
Prio to last week’s 31-21 loss to Liberty University, Montana was ranked No. 8. That loss was the second in a row and they are going to be very motivated to notch a win against NAU to stop the bleeding.
The two teams did not meet last year, but the Lumberjacks have won the last two times they played – and are going to be equally motivated since the Arizona loss cost them a No. 25 ranking that they held for just one week before taking on the Wildcats.
Cookus now has three games under his belt, although he played just the first half against Arizona (Poe took over for the second half), and Butler has shown he can play against better teams; he ran all over Arizona, catching five passes for 119 yards and scoring a TD.
So maybe the ‘Jacks are ready for this one…if they can just put the nightmare memories of last week behind them.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)