CHENEY, Wash. – No. 13 Eastern Washington took advantage of three first-half interceptions and held off a second half rally to prevail 21-14 over No. 24 Northern Arizona Saturday at Roos Field.
"Our kids played with some great courage, especially on defense," said Head Coach Jerome Souers. "We had difficulties today on offense, especially in the first half. I thought our guys collected themselves and played well in the second half and giving ourselves a chance to win."
Bo Levi Mitchell went 20-for-26 for 288 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Eagles. Running back Taiwon Jones was held to just 48 yards on 16 carries. He entered the game leading the nation in all-purpose yardage and averaging 129.5 per game, the sixth-best total in the nation.
The Lumberjacks got back in the game in the second half behind the play of backup Chasen Stangel and a big fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown by Brian Hunter to pull within seven points.
Trailing 21-7, the Lumberjacks failed to score on fourth and goal play on the three-yard line. But on the next play Scott McKeever forced a Taiwon Jones fumble that Brian Hunter recovered for a score, pulling NAU back in the game at 21-14.
"The defense capitalized with a big play," said Souers. "They forced a fumble and got a touchdown. It brought us back in the game."
NAU then got the ball back after a missed field goal by the Eagles.
But NAU failed to score on its final drive when the Lumberjacks were stopped on a fourth and 12 from the Eastern 38 with 3:37 left in the game. The Eagles closed out the game with Mitchell converting a 35-yard pass to Brandon Kaufman to end the hopes of the Lumberjacks and a final chance to tie the game.
Stangel had entered the game in the third quarter for Michael Herrick, leading the Lumberjacks on an 11-play, 43-yard drive for the first NAU score of the game.
Herrick had thrown three interceptions in the first half, including two inside the red zone. He went 21-for-33 for 188 yards. He had his game ended on a hard sack at the end of the half, rolling out to the left when he was hit from behind by a Eastern defender.
"Our defense did a great job of keeping up in the ball game," said Souers. "They played with great courage given some of the situations they were put in. Michael had an off day today. But we don't have any excuses for anyone. We are really struggling on offense."
NAU returns home for the first time since Sept. 2 to play host Montana State for the annual Family Weekend game. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome.