FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Before a crowd of 1,152 fans on a 70-degreee day in Flagstaff NAU's defense in Blue recorded four sacks and an interception and held the Gold offensive unit to just one touchdown to score a 44-34 win in the 2013 NAU Blue & Gold Spring Game.
The game was televised live on FOX Sports Arizona and FOX College Sports Pacific and played in front of a packed house outdoors at Lumberjack Stadium.
"The last couple years our program has grown leaps and bounds, and this game gave us the opportunity to involve the community, the campus, and anybody watching on TV to see that this program is moving in the right direction," NAU head coach Jerome Souers said. "The kids had a chance to play, they had fun, and the coaches did a great job preparing them for this kind of situation. I'm really pleased with what we saw today."
Marcus Alford and Chima Ike led the defensive unit with six tackles apiece, with Alford adding one tackle for loss and Ike recording a sack. Junior Anthony Harrington had the game's only interception, picking off redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Perry in the second quarter, while safety Jake Johnston had two of six pass breakups for Blue on the afternoon.
Rising senior Steven Garcia led the team with two sacks and was thrilled not only with his squad's performance but also with the game as a whole.
"I thought it was a great game; both sides did a really good job," Garcia said. "The defense had a really good spring and we just came out and played really well today. The crowd out here was great and so many people are starting to come out and support us so I'm really looking forward to the season."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kyren Poe, competing with Perry and sophomore Chase Cartwright to replace two-year starter Cary Grossart in 2013, was solid all day, completing 16-of-25 passes for 153 yards and one touchdown while also rushing eight times for 21 yards.
"I thought I did pretty well; there's obviously stuff I need to work on and we can always get better," Poe said. "The o-line did a great job stepping up and facing the challenge and the rest of the guys fed off their energy. I think we did great considering that we only had five or six o-lineman that were healthy."
Perry went 4-of-9 for 20 yards while Cartwright was unable to see 11-on-11 reps as he continues to recover from knee surgery. Junior Nick Cole had a game-high seven catches for 61 yards and junior Ify Umodu caught three balls for 49 yards. Freshman Anthony Troftgruben led the ground attack with seven carries for 20 yards as the offense played without the services of junior running back Zach Bauman, who was nursing a minor injury.
In the only televised Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) spring game this year, the offense got the action started quickly as the squad drove 65 yards on nine plays to score what would be the game's only touchdown on a seven-yard strike from Poe to sophomore fullback Nick Butier.
The Gold had an early 12-2 lead after the touchdown-scoring drive, but the Blue would score the next 14 points sparked by the interception by Harrington. A pair of first downs and a 20-yard completion from Poe to Cole brought the offense within an 18-17 deficit at halftime.
The defense built back to a 25-18 advantage early in the third quarter before the special team's unit got a chance to try a series of field goals to benefit the Gold team. Freshman kicker Ryan Hawkins was superb, making field goals of 27, 32, 47, and 52 yards with just a single miss on his first 52-yard attempt to give the offense a 30-28 lead.
The defense drew even at 32-32 early in the fourth quarter and would tally a sack, three tackles for loss, and two three-and-outs to close the game strong and earn the 10 point win.
NAU, which returns nine starters on both offense and defense in 2013, ends its spring season and looks forward to summer workouts and fall camp before opening its season on Aug. 30 at Arizona. The team plays its first home game on Sept. 21 vs. South Dakota, and Souers can't wait for his 16th season as NAU's head coach to kick-off.
"We had a chance to look at a lot of guys (this spring), and I think our returners are in fine shape and ready to go and we got a chance to go down our depth chart and see some emerging guys and how far they've come along," Souers said. "I think we've made ourselves deeper, we've added a lot on our offensive line, and defensively we are extremely deep as well. We're much improved and I'm excited."