Lumberjacks win defensive battle against Southern Utah 20-10

 
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BY VINCENT PEÑA —

In a matchup of the two best defenses in the Big Sky Conference (BSC), the Lumberjacks defense certainly got the last word.

Senior safety Blair Wishom took an interception back 52 yards for a touchdown with less than a minute left, sealing the 20-10 victory for Northern Arizona University against No. 20 Southern Utah University on Nov. 23.

The win all but guarantees the No. 10 Lumberjacks a playoff spot in the Football Bowl Subdivision playoffs, as well as at least a second-place finish in the BSC.

The Thunderbirds scored the first ten points of the game, both following turnovers by the Lumberjacks. With 6:43 left in the second quarter, Southern Utah blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by Andy Wilder, and took it back 38 yards to set up a touchdown on the ensuing drive. A Southern Utah field goal following a blocked punt gave the Thunderbirds a 10-0 lead.

After that however NAU scored 20 unanswered points, and 17 in the fourth quarter, with the help of it’s suffocating defense.

The Lumberjack defense dominated the Thunderbirds, allowing only 85 yards of total offense through three quarters. It’s important to note that Southern Utah didn’t attempt a pass until late in the fourth quarter, when trying to mount a comeback. NAU’s defense also intercepted Southern Utah twice, and denied the Thunderbirds offense long drives. Additionally, the Lumberjacks got three sacks and a forced fumble, and held the Thunderbirds to 2-of-11 on third downs.

In spite of the slow offensive start and a scoreless first half for the Lumberjacks, NAU got on the scoreboard late in the third quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Wilder.

The next score came with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter, as sophomore quarterback Kyren Poe found senior receiver Nick Cole in the backfield. Cole grabbed a ball that seemingly bounced off the ground, causing the Thunderbirds defense to stop, and then ran the 25 yards into the end zone to tie it up.

Poe played the entire game, as NAU decided against swapping between him and junior Chase Cartwright, who has started the last five games at quarterback.

Poe was effective in his first start in over a month, passing for 99 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-14 passing. He also added 49 yards rushing on 8 attempts.

After junior linebacker Austin Hasquet picked off Southern Utah quarterback Mike Sharp, leading to another Wilder field goal that put the Lumberjacks up 13-10 with 5:42 left in the game, giving them their first lead of the game. The interception was Hasquet’s third on the season.

It was snowing for a large part of the game, which potentially affected the field conditions and performance of the players. NAU’s special teams struggled in the snow, as a punt and a field goal attempt were blocked, and senior Lucky Dozier muffed a punt early in the third quarter.

The Lumberjacks finished with their best regular season record since 1996, ending the season 9-2, including a 7-1 mark in the BSC.

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