16th-ranked Football Travels to UND for First Time in 27 Years
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona football team will get its first look at new Big Sky Conference member North Dakota Saturday in Grand Forks, N.D. Kickoff is set for 1:07 p.m. at the Alerus Center Arizona time.
Fans can catch the call of the game on the Lumberjack Radio Network on 105.1 FM The Big Talker or listen online. The game will also be available to watch online on Big Sky TV. Granny's Closet will show the online broadcast locally.
After opening Big Sky play with a 35-13 road victory at Sacramento State, UND (3-3, 1-2 Big Sky) has dropped two straight in league play to a pair of ranked opponents (Cal Poly and EWU).
The Lumberjacks (4-1, 2-0 Big Sky) are looking for the first five-game winning streak since 2008. NAU is ranked for the third consecutive week at No. 16 in the Sports Network poll and No. 18 in the FCS Coaches poll. The No. 16 ranking is the highest ranking since the Lumberjacks were No. 15 heading onto a game at Weber State on Oct. 25, 2008.
Coming off their bye week, Head Coach Jerome Souers said his team took advantage of the week to rest and prepare, but wants to keep the momentum the winning streak has created.
"There are a couple challenges," said Souers. "Any time there is a bye week there is an opportunity for rest. But at the same time it takes away the rhythm and the momentum that you built up. I think we have done a great job this week of practicing fast. We had extra time to prepare for our opponent. They are a new team but we have managed to learn a little bit extra because of the time that we have had. We are trying to turn those into benefits and turn them in our favor."
NAU is meeting North Dakota for the first time since the 1985 season and first time as a member of the Big Sky Conference. The two schools met twice in Flagstaff in 1967 (W, 39-10) and 1985 (W, 41-0). It will be the first trip for the Lumberjacks to Grand Forks in school history and first trip to the Peace Garden State since 1980.
"We have made great strides, coming out of the non-conference with a winning record and starting off conference play at 2-0 is a great position to be," said Souers. "I could not have picked a better start to the season. They key and what I believe this team has accomplished is the mentality that every week we get better. They are focused on the opponent ahead of us for that week only. Our goal is to go 1-0 for that week. As long as we maintain that we will be a better team each week and at our best at the end of the season."
The Lumberjacks will face another challenging road environment in the Alerus Center, one of 11 indoor stadiums in college football.
"Having played in front of large crowds and noisy conditions has helped us," said Souers. "All of the games are situations where we had to overcome some adversity. It is loud, a lot like Northern Iowa's, and they have rapid fans that support their team. It is our job to come in and adapt to the situation and be able to communicate like you have to those settings."
Quarterback Cary Grossart says the team is prepared based on earlier road experiences and competing in the Walkup Skydome.
"We know what to expect," said Grossart. "It is about executing and doing what we do. If any team should be comfortable in a dome setting like that, it should be us."
NAU opened its season with a 63-6 loss at Arizona State, and trailed UNLV 14-0 at the half of its second game. Since then, Northern Arizona has outscored opponents 151-41 en route to four wins. The four wins already equals the total from the 2011 season. With the win over UNLV, NAU beat a NCAA FBS or I-A opponent for the first time since 1987 with its 17-14 victory on Sept. 8, snapping a 21-game losing streak to FBS opponents. The win at Montana was the first win for NAU over Montana since 1997 and the first win in Missoula since a 34-28 victory in 1986.
Second Half Defense...
The Lumberjacks have given up just 14 points in the second half over the last four games, posting two shut outs in the second half and six scoreless quarters by opponents. PSU scored a third quarter touchdown in the last game and Montana scored late in the fourth quarter against the Lumberjacks.
NAU has not committed a turnover in 18 quarters dating to a second quarter interception by Chase Cartwright against the Sun Devils in the season opener. The Lumberjacks threw three interceptions against Arizona State but have not had a turnover since, stringing 124 pass attempts over the 18 quarters without a pick. NAU has also not lost a fumble all season.