GREELEY, Colo. – The Northern Arizona football team overcame three turnovers with a big play defensive effort and late field goal to escape with a 12-10 victory over Northern Colorado Saturday on a brisk afternoon at Nottingham Field. Andy Wilder's 18-yard field goal sealed the game with 15 seconds left, giving the Lumberjacks their fourth come-from-behind effort of the season.
"I cannot say enough about our defense," said Head Coach Jerome Souers. "They played their tails off today. They were stingy all day today."
NAU (7-1, 5-0 Big Sky) extended its win streak to seven games, improving to 7-1 on the season. It is the first seven-game win streak since the Lumberjacks won 11 straight in the 1958 season en route to the NAIA Championship game. NAU improved to 5-0 in Big Sky play, starting perfect after five games in league play for the first time since 1996.
"We are going to learn a lot from this game," said Souers. "We did not play well today. We have to be better in preparation and get more out in performance time."
The Lumberjacks rode their defense Saturday, recording two defensive scores while holding the Bears to 10 points. UNC, which was coming off a 537-yard effort last week in a win against Idaho State, was held to 240 yards with just 42 yards on the ground.
NAU did not a score a offensive touchdown in the contest and had a season-high tying three turnovers. Grossart was just 21-for-32 and Zach Bauman was held to 92 yards on 26 carries.
"Offensively we struggled getting into a groove," said Souers. "We credit our opponent with that. We had way too many turnovers and penalties to be effective."
Holding onto a 9-3 lead for more than two quarters, the Bears scraped away a drive against the Lumberjacks. Seth Lobato hit Gunn for 15 yards on a fourth-and-two to put UNC up 10-9 with 4:52 on the clock. The play completed a 10-play drive that went 91 yards.
"We knew it was going to be a dog fight today," said safety Lucky Dozier. "We just had to keep doing our job. You have to give credit to Gunn. He is a good player."
With their streak on the line, Grossart led the team on a game-winning drive. It started with a sack but Zach Bauman, who finished with 92 yards in the game, broke off a 13-yard run. Grossart completed four straight to move the Lumberjacks into Bear territory at the 28. Bauman was then held for no gain and an incomplete pass to setup a crucial fourth down. Bauman got the two yards to extend the drive.
Grossart then hit Dejzon Walker for 21 yards down to the Bear five-yard line. UNC stopped Bauman twice, leaving the game winner to Wilder with 17 seconds left. He converted from 18 yards for his second game-winning kick of the season.
"Cary stepped up on the last drive and put us into field goal position and Andy secured the win," said Souers. "It was a team win. It was ugly but another day in the Big Sky Conference."
The Lumberjacks played without wideout Ify Umodo and tight end R.J. Rickert, who were both sidelined with injuries.
The game started off rough. NAU turned the ball over on their first two possessions. After a 40-yard pass play, Shanks recorded just the second fumble of the season by team. NAU led the nation with just one fumble in the first seven games. Grossart was picked off on the second drive. But NAU escaped the mistakes behind stops by the defense each time.
NAU got on the board when UNC fumbled the snap on its first punt and was tackled in the end zone by Jarret Bilbrey for a safety. Northern Colorado had a 13-play drive in the second quarter but the defense stopped the drive inside the five-yard line, holing UNC to a field goal for a 3-2 advantage at the time.
NAU took the lead when Mike Dosen picked off a pass by Lobato and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown with 4:09 left in the quarter.
NAU plays on the road again next week at Idaho State.
"We need to heal up," said Souers. "We have a lot of guys down. We have new guys contributing. But we have to clean up our quality of play."