NAU routs Vikings in season finale
Before the game, NAU honored 20 student athletes as part of Senior Day. After the game, they all held their heads high in the wake of a 62-14 romp of Portland State Saturday at the Walkup Skydome. This was all thanks in part to monster rushing performances from the running back duo of freshman Zach Bauman and sophomore Giovannie Dixon, in addition to a big day in the air from senior quarterback Michael Herrick.
“I was really proud of the way our football team responded with their last opportunity to play,” said head coach Jerome Souers, whose future beyond this season is uncertain. “For our seniors and everyone who has been a member of our team, to see them step up and put their best foot forward was fun.”
Bauman set the single-season freshman rushing record with 1,059 yards, which breaks Alex Henderson’s 1,014 set back in 2006. He ran for 152 yards and two scores, and caught another touchdown, while Dixon had a career-best 219 with two more touchdowns.
“I need to stay humble and give credit to my offensive line, but I want to get to 2,000 yards next year,” Bauman said with a smile.
The game began with the Lumberjacks fumbling on their first drive, and Portland State could not capitalize on a fake field goal pass attempt. Junior receiver Austin Shanks made up for that fumble by catching a pass from Herrick in the back of the end zone for a 7-0 near the end of the first quarter.
Senior safety Brian Hunter caught a tipped pass for an interception off Viking quarterback Tygue Howling, which set up the Jacks for a 17-yard run up the gut by Bauman to begin the rout.
Portland (2-9, 1-7 Big Sky) fumbled their way through the second quarter as their first three drives fell victim to turnovers, with two recovered by junior linebacker Scott McKeever. NAU would capitalize on all turnovers in the frame with a 21-yard score to senior wideout Daiveun Curry-Chapman, a 49-yard run by Dixon, and a 26-yard shovel-pass to Bauman from Herrick to bring the score to 35-0 at halftime. The Jacks were not immune to the fumble-bug, as they too contributed four of their own to add to a staggering total of eight for both teams.
Herrick, the unquestioned leader of the team, was perfect on 11 pass attempts in the first half and ended up 18-for-22 with 261 yards and four touchdowns in the final game. He will leave as No. 1 in school history for completion percentage (64.6).
“I had all day to throw, and I’m glad everyone came out and played hard,” Herrick said. “We had a lot of fun, and I don’t think any team came closer together than we did. That’s something special.”
The Jacks continued to have their way with the Vikings defense after halftime. Bauman opened the second half with an 82-yard bust and another Herrick-to-Chapman strike later in the quarter.
“The offense came out with an excellent game plan, and I thought we attacked the things they were giving us,” Souers said. We were effective running the ball and throwing it today, which is the kind of approach we do when we are at our best.”
Dixon added to his career day with a 75-yard score in the fourth quarter, and senior defensive lineman Brandon Vance, a Portland native, blocked a punt resulting in an NAU touchdown to further add insult to injury.
“We came in with a solid game plan,” said Curry-Chapman, who led the team with nine catches for 155 and two scores. “It was a nice salute to all the seniors we had. I see them all as brothers, and we left it all out there on the field.”
NAU put up 655 total yards on the day with 394 coming on the ground. The defense only allowed 296 yards and sacked Howling four times, who was a paltry 16-of-31 with a pick and limited line protection.
Despite finishing a disappointing 6-5 and missing the playoffs, there is optimism for the Jacks going forward with the talent coming back next season. For one player who had a career day, he can’t wait to see what happens next.
“I’m not too worried going forward; [junior quarterback Chasen Stangel] is pretty good,” Dixon said. He described his own performance as “happy to show the coaches my speed.”