TEMPE, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona (0-1) football team battled FBS opponent Arizona State (1-0) down to the final snap, but the Sun Devils stayed a few steps ahead coming away with a 44-13 win tonight in the newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium.
"We've developed into more of a complete team than we were a year ago. At times, we showed ourselves to be very capable; a team that can play at a high tempo," said head coach Jerome Souers. "We had some problems with our long and short snaps, along with our punt game. That started to build up against us, and the longer the game went on, they started to wear us down."
The Lumberjacks entered the game ranked No. 18 in the FCS national polls, holding the Sun Devils to seven points in the first quarter. At the half, NAU trailed ASU 10-3, despite managing to control the clock most of the half. NAU made the game interesting in the fourth quarter when sophomore quarterback Case Cookus sailed the ball through the air to Elijah Marks, who broke off a few defenders and made his way 87 yards down the field for the score.
The touchdown propelled Marks into the 100-yard territory, besting his previous career-high of 96 yards. Marks tallied 174 yards on the night, while fellow wide out Emmanuel Butler notched 118 yards.
"I think we are happy with the amount of yards and how we moved the ball, but we're not happy with some of the stupid mistakes we made in the red zone not coming away with points," Cookus. "We have a lot to work on but there are a lot of positives there. We'll take the positives and the negatives and work on it."
The Sun Devils struck first with a 13-yard rushing touchdown by Manny Wilkins to go up 7-0 with 12:58 left in the first quarter. ASU used seven plays to go 44 yards up the field to the end zone.
The Lumberjacks faced a 3-and-1 on the ASU16 and decided to go for it, but the Sun Devil defense held up as NAU loss three-yards on the fourth down to give ASU the ball on their own 19-yard line.
NAU responded shortly after when sophomore cornerback Cole Sterns stepped up big and picked off ASU quarterback Kalen Ballage three plays later to give the ball back to the Lumberjacks.
True freshman Griffin Roehler connected on his first-ever collegiate field goal attempt when he let the ball sail 25 yards through the uprights to cut ASU's lead down to 7-3 with 13:26 left in the second quarter.
More than 10 minutes passed off the game clock before the Sun Devils managed to record a 33-yard field goal with 1:26 to go in the half.
NAU had one last chance to score before the end of the first half. Cookus had Marks and Butler downfield, and it was the 6-foot-4 Butler who came away with it after a tip and ran 36 yards down the sideline before the officials called him out of bounds at the NAU1.
The Lumberjacks went into the locker room at the half down 10-3, but possessing the game clock 17:45 to 12:15. NAU racked up 212 yards, while holding the Pac-12 squad to 169 yards, including 98 yards rushing in the first half.
NAU got the second half started with a 39-yard pass completion from Cookus to Butler. The Lumberjacks worked their way up the field and after penalties from both teams moved the ball back-and-forth, NAU called upon Roehler for the 23-yard field goal attempt that was good. The field goal cut ASU's lead down to 10-6 with 10:51 remaining in the third quarter.
"I felt like it was good for everybody to know that we have other play makers in our receiving core," Butler said. "Elijah had a great game tonight. Him and Case put the team on their backs when I started getting double covered. It was good to let people know that I'm not the only playmaker at the wide-out spot."
The Sun Devils took a chance midway through the third quarter and it paid off as Zane Gonzalez sinked a 53-yard field goal to extend ASU's lead to 13-6.
ASU made it a 20-6 ball game, after Demario Richards ran in the end zone for the two-yard score. The Sun Devils took control of the clock using up 5:11 of it to make it a double digit lead.
The Sun Devils added one more touchdown, before Cookus' lightning bolt pass to Marks stopped the 16-point scoring run by the home team.
By the end of the game, ASU scored three straight touchdowns to seal the season opening win, 44-13.
"ASU has some excellent ball carriers and some really quality personnel on their perimeter and their offensive line is very physical, Souers said. "I think that took a toll on us in the third and fourth quarter."
NAU will continue road play when it travels to Western Illinois next weekend. The Leathernecks a Top 25 team defeated Eastern Illinois 38-21 on Thursday night.
Notes: NAU and Arizona State played for the first time since 2012…Tonight kicked off the 102nd season of NAU Football…Captains for the game were Emmanuel Butler, Jake Thomas, Kendyl Taylor, and Siupeli Anau…Griffin Roehler connected on his first career field goal to cut ASU's lead to 7-3 with 13:26 to go in the second…Butler registered his eighth 100-yard receiving game with 118 yards…Case Cookus' 87-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Marks in the fourth quarter set a new career long for both players…Marks set a new career high in receiving yards with 174…Stats Through Each Quarter: 1st qtr – NAU 115 yards on 20 plays, ASU 67 yards on 13 plays…2nd qtr – NAU 212 yards on 37 plays, ASU 169 yards on 36 plays…3rd qtr – NAU 316 yards on 50 plays, ASU 279 yards on 58 plays, 4th qtr – NAU 109 yards on 17 plays, ASU 177 yards on 15 plays.