When Chris Ball took over as head coach of the Northern Arizona University football program three years ago, he tried very hard to recruit Will Plummer to play for him in his new job.
Plummer, instead, opted to take advantage of an offer to play at University of Arizona.
You have to wonder now what the freshman from Gilbert High School is thinking after leading his Wildcats to the program’s first loss to NAU since 1932 — when the Flagstaff school was called the Arizona State Teachers College. His name now will forever be linked to one of the worst losses in the history of the UofA program.
The Lumberjacks, an FCS team that plays in the Big Sky Conference and came into the game winless, stunned its Pac-12 neighbor in Tucson with a 21-19 victory that left the crowd of 33,481 in Arizona Stadium in a state of complete shock as the final seconds ticked off the game clock and they were left with the realization of what just happened on the field below them.
It was like an other-world experience for fans accustomed to rolling over their little brother to the north.
Coming into last night’s game, the two teams had met 14 times since 1933 and the Wildcats had won them all, usually by wide margins. Over the previous three times they played, the Cats averaged over 60 points an outing.
The last time, in 2019, the Cats ran up 720 yards of offense and had piled up 51 points by halftime. The eventual 65-41 rout could have been much worse, but the lopsided game gave the reserves lots of playing time in the second half.
And that’s what’s come to be expected each time the ‘Jacks make that three-hour trip down the hill from Flag to the Old Pueblo to take what’s become a semi-annual beating at the hands of a Power 5 program. There’s always that glimmer of hope for an upset, but it’s mostly about the payday the NAU program gets for taking its lumps.
But this time was different. In so many ways.
Arizona seemed to be in control early in the game, as was to be expected, building a 13-0 lead. But an interception by NAU defensive back Brady Shough that was returned 28 yards for a score seemed to spark a turnaround with just under two minutes left before halftime.
Before the third quarter closed, NAU freshman running back Kevin Daniels used a 15-yard touchdown run to give the ‘Jacks a 14-13 lead. A nine-yard touchdown pass from freshman QB RJ Martinez, the Jacks’ third QB of the game, to Hendrix Johnson in the fourth quarter made it 21-13.
Daniels, from Glendale High School, finished the game with 109 yards.
Plummer was replaced by Jordan McCloud in the final minutes of the game as Arizona looked for an answer to the NAU defense. Plummer was left to watch from the sidelines as McCloud engineered a seven-play, 85-yard drive that culminated with a three-yard TD pass to Boobie Curry with 2:16 left on the clock. That made it 21-19, but the two-point conversion attempt failed and the Lumberjacks ran out the clock for the historic win.
The Wildcat defense showed well for most of the game, forcing three NAU turnovers. But the offense was unable to hold up its end of the game plan. The run game accounted for just 106 total yards, which averaged out to just under four yards a carry. NAU rushed for 130 yards.
But Will Plummer isn’t the person with the most to lose in the chaos of this huge upset. The game leaves the Wildcats’ new head coach, Jedd Fisch, winless after three games — which adds to a 12-game losing streak he inherited when taking over the program in December of 2020.
There was much pushback among the fan base when Fisch was hired to replace Kevin Sumlin. Fisch had a lengthy resume of NFL and college coaching, but had never been a head coach. Wildcat Nation was hoping for a big-name hire to begin resuscitating an Arizona program that has been on life support for far too long.
The UofA fans have suffered through three losing seasons with Sumlin and a 15-game losing streak, the longest in the nation, that stretches back to October of 2019. That’s not the kind of national recognition the school desperately seeks. Since 1998, the Wildcats have finished just one season as a ranked team.
And, as this season opened, they were still trying to recover from the beyond-embarrassing 70-7 loss to rival Arizona State in the final game of last season. And now this.
You have to wonder how much more the Wildcat fans can take before giving up the fight.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)