Trailing by four touchdowns with less than six minutes to play Friday, NAU ponied up for a 45-yard field goal.
At that point, it wasn’t about the game. It was about the rest of the Lumberjacks’ games this season.
“Yeah, it was just psychological,” NAU coach Jerome Souers said. “You don’t ever want to get shut out. I don’t like making decisions where it wouldn’t really affect the outcome but psychologically, we didn’t want to go and have a shutout.”
Andy Wilder’s kick sailed wide left, leaving the Lumberjacks scoreless. About a minute later, a final 61-yard touchdown romp by Arizona’s Javelle Allen cemented a 35-0 UA win, and further potential demoralization for the Wildcats’ in-state cousins.
It was clear the Lumberjacks would have to find somewhere else to build up their confidence for the remaining games this year.
One idea might be tossing out the game film of Friday’s second half, in which Arizona pretty much flattened any idea the Lumberjacks had of staying competitive on the first drive of the third quarter.
NAU sophomore quarterback Kyren Poe, who completed his first 10 passes in what was his first start, threw a pass that was picked off by UA’s Tra’Mayne Bondurant and promptly returned 23 yards for a touchdown. Arizona led 21-0 at that point and made it 28-0 only six minutes later.
The rest of the game was mostly rainy, sloppy irrelevance.
“The interception in the second half really took any momentum out of the game,” Souers said.
But there was some momentum — sort of — for the Lumberjacks earlier in the game.
After Arizona drove 75 yards to score on its first drive of the game, with Daniel Jenkins bursting out of the backfield to exploit an open gap and take in an 11-yard touchdown pass, NAU actually kept the Wildcats scoreless for the next 21 minutes.
That’s when Poe was showing why Souers named him the Lumberjacks’ starter over junior Chase Cartwright, who led NAU to a win over UNLV last season.
“I’m proud of Kyren in his first start,” Souers said. “I thought he showed great poise. He went out and made some nice throws and managed our offense well.”
That was no surprise to Zach Bauman, the Lumberjacks’ leading rusher with 71 yards. Bauman and Poe played together at Chandler Hamilton High.
“I’ve seen what Kyren can do,” Bauman said. “It was in high school games but he keeps his composure and that gives me confidence. I know he’s not going to crack under pressure.
“He’s a guy I can play with at a higher comfort level.”
Poe downplayed his performance, saying “as an offense we move the ball pretty well.” He also refused to make excuses for the rain or his relative lack of protection, even as Souers noted that the Lumberjacks had some “issues” on an offensive line with two freshmen.
Oh well. It was never meant to be easy.
The semi-regular NAU-UA game is a revenue producer for the Lumberjacks, a test for their players and an opportunity for fans.
It’s not about wins. Confidence, maybe. But the wins will have to come later.
“There’s a reality of the game that it has to be and I’m proud of this,” Souers said. “If we’re going to play up, I’d rather play in-state where it means more to our players and I think it means more to our fans.
“It’s a hard game. It’s really hard. Don’t get me wrong. It’s very hard to prepare for … and our guys took it on with great courage.
“We’ll continue to play them. It’s not something we’re ever going to turn down. It’s a great opportunity for us.”