MACOMB, Ill. – No. 18 Western Illinois (2-0) scored 21 points in the second half to defeat No. 17/19 Northern Arizona (0-2) at Hanson Field. Case Cookus completed 26 of 33 passes and threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns, as the Lumberjacks fell to the Leathernecks, 34-20.
"The control of the line of scrimmage...we didn't have it," said Head Coach Jerome Souers. "They pressured our passing game, their offensive line took control and did a great job protecting their quarterback. I thought they ran the ball pretty effectively, but the hardest part was dealing with their receivers, particularly (Lance Lenoir). I thought he had a great game today."
NAU's first score came a mere one minute and 12 seconds into the game when the ball bounced off Jonathan Baldwin's hands and into Elijah Marks' gloves for the 42-yard score to give NAU a quick 7-0 lead.
The Leathernecks hit a 37-yard field goal to trim NAU's lead midway through the first quarter, but the Lumberjacks had a trick up their sleeve waiting to be let go. Cookus flicked the ball to Hunter Burton, who then found Emmanuel Butler wide open for the 37-yard score to extend the Lumberjacks' lead to 13-3, despite the Leathernecks blocking the extra point attempt.
NAU struggled offensively in the second quarter, producing 57 passing yards and 22 rushing yards. The Leathernecks were able to capitalize on their ball possession registering a 24-yard field goal and a four-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 13-All heading into halftime.
"There were times where we stopped ourselves, whether it was a critical penalty, a missed assignment or a missed block," said Souers. "When we sustained drives, the offense looked great, but the times that we didn't, we looked like a team that was off pace."
WIU attempted a 41-yard field goal 12:08 into the third quarter, but it went wide right. That did not deter the Leathernecks, though, because three minutes later they found an opening in the NAU defense, as Steve McShane rushed for 62 yards up the NAU sideline to give WIU its first lead of the game at the 9:14 mark in the third quarter.
The Leathernecks added a 26-yard passing touchdown before the Lumberjacks closed it out with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Cookus to Baldwin. The score trimmed the Leathernecks' lead down to seven. The touchdown snapped 24 straight points by the Leathernecks.
The home team recorded a 10-yard touchdown halfway through the fourth quarter to gain a 14-point advantage, forcing NAU to score at least two touchdowns in order to make a comeback.
A 40-yard rush by Kendyl Taylor gave NAU good field position late in the fourth quarter. The Lumberjacks were able to move the ball and make it down to the WIU11 yard line. Facing a 4th-and-2, NAU went for it and was stopped giving the Leathernecks the ball back and control of the clock.
The Leathernecks took possession into the final minutes and came away with the 14-point victory.
Marks was NAU's top receiver of the day, finishing with 90 yards on four catches, while Butler tallied 78 yards. Taylor was just short of the 100-yard mark, grabbing 97 rushing yards.
NAU will host New Mexico Highlands in its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 17 at the Walkup Skydome. The game will begin at 4 p.m., but arrive early to tailgate and to see the Running of the Freshmen.
Notes: Today's captains: Siupeli Anau, Blake Porter, Jake Thomas, and Case Cookus…NAU and Western Illinois faced off for the first time since 1967…The all-time series is now tied, 1-1…Second straight game NAU has scored in the first-three minutes of the game…Elijah Marks scored a touchdown for the second straight game this season…Emmanuel Butler's 47-yard touchdown was the 18th of his career, tying him for fifth all-time in the NAU record books…First career touchdown for Jonathan Baldwin (18 yards – 3rd Qtr)…Butler moved up to No. 16 on the NAU all-time receiving yards chart with 1,639.