FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona football team was not selected for the 20-team Football Championship Subdivision playoffs despite an 8-3 overall record and 6-2 record in the Big Sky Conference.
"We are generally disappointed as a team," said Souers. "As a program, if you look at where we were 12 months ago to where we are today, we accomplished a great deal. We doubled our win total and won some bigger games, games we have not won in the past. With as many guys as we have returning, I am confident we have the program going in the right direction."
The Lumberjacks, who were 4-7 last season, improved four games in the win column. NAU is the third Big Sky Conference team to finish 8-3 and not make the playoffs since the field expanded to 16 teams.
Montana State, Eastern Washington and Cal Poly were each selected for the field.
'The parity in the conference is pretty strong," said Souers. "We knew going in it was going to be. I am sure Eastern Washington, Montana State and Cal Poly will represent the conference well. It has given us a clear picture as to what we need to do to make sure we are in the field in the coming years."
After opening the season with a loss at Arizona State, the Lumberjacks won eight consecutive games for the first time since the 1958 season (11 games). NAU beat a NCAA FBS or I-A opponent for the first time since 1987 with its 17-14 victory on Sept. 8 over UNLV, 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. The Lumberjacks also posted a 5-1 record on the road, tying the school record for road wins.
"We did something this year," said quarterback Cary Grossart. "We can look back and put the season in perspective. There were some key wins that we had and we did it together. I have enjoyed my five years here. I got to have the opportunity to play and have some great moments that I will remember for a long time."
NAU was ranked at No. 20 in the final Sports Network regular season poll, the ninth consecutive week in the national poll. The No. 11 ranking before the Southern Utah game was the highest for the program since 2003 when the Lumberjacks were ranked as high as No. 10. NAU opened league play with a 6-0 start for first time since 1996, tying the school record for consecutive Big Sky wins. The eight wins were the most since the 1993 season, the last season the team made the playoff field.
Individually, junior running back Zach Bauman moved into second place in school history with 3,676 career rushing yards and needs 119 yards to surpass Marcus King's school record next season. Senior Austin Shanks finished the regular season as the national leader in punt return average at 19.8, while punter Andy Wilder led the nation in punt average at 46.3.
"We had a good season," said Zach Bauman, who finished with 1,182 yards on the season. "It came down to it and we did not get in the playoffs. It hurts right now but starting today we have to look forward to next season and start working towards it."
The Lumberjacks lose 15 seniors from the 2012 team. Quarterback Cary Grossart, who threw for 1,997 yards and 17 touchdowns, and offensive lineman Trey Gilleo both are graduating. Defensive lineman Jarret Bilbrey and cornerback Devin Willis are the two senior starters on the defense lost.
Overall, the Lumberjacks return 18 starters in 2013 and are scheduled to open the season at Arizona. The complete 2013 schedule will be announced at a later date.
The Sports Network FCS Poll (Nov. 18)
1. North Dakota State (126) 10-1 3,653
2. Montana St. (12) 10-1 3,461
3. Old Dominion (6) 10-1 3,310
4. E. Washington 9-2 3,176
5. Sam Houston St. 8-3 3,141
6. Georgia Southern 8-2 2,779
7. Appalachian State 8-3 2,688
8. Central Arkansas 9-2 2,510
9. Wofford 8-3 2,318
10. Stony Brook 9-2 1,953
11. New Hampshire 8-3 1,910
12. Cal Poly 9-2 1,817
13. Lehigh 10-1 1,802
14. Villanova 8-3 1,627
15. Towson 7-4 1,626
16. Illinois State 8-3 1,611
17. James Madison 7-4 1,290
18. Richmond 8-3 1,244
19. South Dakota St. 8-3 1,178
20. Northern Arizona 8-3 1,073
21. Eastern Kentucky 8-3 803
22. Bethune-Cookman 9-2 612
23. Indiana State 7-4 442
24. Colgate 8-3 336
25. E. Illinois 7-4 258