NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Northern Arizona donned a new offense and quarterback as it made a splash in Texas tonight defeating the No. 24 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks 34-28 at Homer Bryce Stadium.
"There were a lot of risks in making the number of changes that we did, but I thought what we saw on the field was a product of those changes," said head coach Jerome Souers. "I thought Tim Plough called an excellent game, and our offensive staff as a whole worked well together."
NAU wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as greyshirt freshman Case Cookus used two minutes and 15 seconds off the clock to find Emmanuel Butler for the 57-yard touchdown pass. The Lumberjack defense was able to take the field next and linebacker Josh Bamrick set the tone with an eight-yard sack.
The first play of the game to go under review was a forced fumble by Jake Thomas that was ruled a touchback on the field as it went into the end zone. The play was overruled and SFA got the ball back at the one-yard line. The ruling led to a one-yard touchdown rush by SFA quarterback Zach Conque giving the home team their first points of the game.
The Cookus-Emmanuel connection teamed up for their second touchdown of the game when the freshman found the 6-foot-3 wide receiver for the 47-yard score. This time NAU used 63 seconds off the clock to punch in the touchdown for the 10-point lead.
"(On his first game) It was a great experience," Cookus said. "Right now I'm on cloud nine. We got the first win under our belt. We did make a few mistakes tonight, but next week the plan is to improve. It helps when you have the best receiving group and a great offensive line."
SFA battled past NAU's defense to cut the visitor's lead to three points after a four-yard touchdown rush. It was the second rushing touchdown of the game for SFA.
Five minutes later, Hawkins used his leg for the greater good again, this time with a 25-yard field goal at the 5:24 mark in the second to extend NAU's lead to six points which would give the blue and gold a 20-14 halftime edge.
Both teams went three-and-out to start the second half, unable to move the ball up the field. While SFA recorded another three-and-out, NAU managed to work its way up the field capped by an 11-yard rushing touchdown by Cookus. The 13-point shift marked the biggest lead of the game for NAU.
NAU continued to show the many ways its offense was versatile and it came when wide receiver Alex Holmes found Butler for the 36-yard score adjusting the visitor's score to 34-14 with less than nine minutes remaining.
"To see Emmanuel shine the way he did was amazing," said Souers. "Case had his first collegiate quarterback experience and perform the way he did was great. I thought he showed great poise and accuracy. Casey ran extremely well tonight. When you're performing like that it's because your offensive line is dominating."
After going the third quarter scoreless, SFA was able to add seven points to its total with 6:04 to go in the game. NAU still held a 34-21 advantage and would be able to control the clock.
SFA tried to make a late comeback with a 10-yard score with 2:15 left in the game, but NAU would not allow them to put up any more points. SFA was called for pass interference on a third-and-eight that gave NAU an automatic first down and the ball for the rest of the game.
Cookus finished his collegiate debut going 13-for-18 with three touchdowns (two passing/one rushing).
Butler had a previous career single-game high of 61 yards entering the game. He finished with 216 yards and three touchdowns.
"They (SFA) left their man one-on-one with us and we were able to capitalize," Butler said. "(On the win) It feels great. To start off the year with a win is always good for us and now we just have to keep rolling and pushing our way through."
The Lumberjacks of NAU held on for the win and defeated its first FCS opponent in a season opener since August 30, 2001.
Notes: NAU and SFA played tonight for the first time since 2004…Greyshirt freshman Case Cookus made his first start finishing 13-18-0 with 267 yards and three touchdowns…On the first drive of the game for NAU – six plays, 75 yards, 2:25, 57-yard touchdown pass from Cookus to Emmanuel Butler…Cookus started the game 4-for-4 with 120 yards, 2 TDs, and a long of 57 yards…Third career 100-yard rushing game for Jahn (158 yards)…It was NAU's second straight win versus a ranked team…The first interception of the game went to cornerback Marcus Alford for the one-yard return.