Last-second field goal lifts Lumberjacks past Bears
By HEATHER KENNEDY
GREELEY – The Northern Colorado defense gave up just three points to the No. 13 team in the nation in Northern Arizona, but the Lumberjacks were able to score once on defense and get a safety on special teams for the 12-10 win at Nottingham Field on Saturday.
The Bears (2-6 overall, 1-4 Big Sky) forced turnovers on Northern Arizona's first two possessions of the game and ended the day with three takeaways, but the Lumberjacks (7-1 overall, 5-0 Big Sky) were able to kick an 18-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining to end the upset bid. It is the fourth time this season NAU has come from behind to win a game.
Next week, the Bears start a two-game road swing at Portland State with kickoff schedule for 2:05 (Mountain), while Northern Arizona travels to Idaho State to take on the Bengals at 3:05 (Mountain).
"When you get a game like this, as a coach building a program you've got to try to take the positives away from it, but it hurts," Coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. "When you know you've got a team on the ropes and you basically just gave it to them. For us, we're going to go back and see what the mistakes were and why the penalties are being called, why we're committing the penalties and fix it."
Northern Colorado was whistled for seven penalties for 75 yards, including one that erased a 62-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Seth Lobato (Eaton, Colo.) to Tromaine Dennis (Jersey City, N.J.) on the first drive of the third quarter.
Senior linebacker Hervè Tonye-Tonye (Montreal, Quebec) and senior safety Marcel Gibbons (Colorado Springs, Colo.) each forced a fumble, while junior defensive end Gavin Miller (Greeley) and senior linebacker Cameron Friend (Denver) each had a recovery, while senior safety Jordan Bible (Aurora, Colo.) had his third interception of the year to lead the defense.
Sophomore linebacker Leilon Willingham (Denver) led the team with nine tackles, while Miller chipped in 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass break-up. Sophomore corner Courtney Hall (Pompano Beach, Fla.) also had two pass break-ups, both on the Lumberjacks final drive of the game.
The Northern Colorado defense also held one of the top rushers in the league, Zach Bauman to well below his season average of 126.3 yards per game as today he carried the ball 26 times for 92 yards. It broke a streak of two-straight 100+ yard rushing games and he had done so in five of the last six. His 102 all-purpose yards are the second-lowest this year behind the 12 yards he had against Arizona State in the season opener.
"We played great," Collins said. "When you contain Zach Bauman and hold him under 100 yards, you have to feel good about that. He's a kid that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. I think he's going to be a guy that plays on Sundays. We just tried to gang tackle him and make sure in our cut-back lanes and tried to contain him. We really focused on that and knew if we could focus on that it takes away a big part of what they're trying to do."
On offense, junior wide receiver Jace Davis (Lone Tree, Colo.) caught seven passes for 105 yards, the second time this season and the fifth time in his career he's surpassed 100 receiving yards in a game.
Dennis rushed 20 times for 70 yards, while Lobato completed 20-of-36 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. In the second half, however, Lobato completed 13-of-17 passes for 142 of those yards.
His lone touchdown of the day went to senior Dominic Gunn (Aurora) with 4:52 remaining in the contest to give the Bears a 10-9 advantage. It was a 15-yard pass that capped a 10-play, 91-yard scoring drive that ate 4:13 off the clock.
"I never worry about our kids or that they're going to get down and give up on themselves," Collins said. "Now it's just why wait until the last drive to put it together. We've got to figure out how to get it going like that in the first quarter or second quarter so we don't have to be down and have a drive to come back and win it at the end – we can just go out there and celebrate a victory. In the end it still came down to us being in a position – we were up with four minutes to go and we didn't seal the deal. As a head coach you don't care what the score is as long as you've got one more point than they've got and we fell two short and we had a chance to win it, but didn't."
Gunn ended the contest with 63 all-purpose yards (20 receiving, 25 kickoff return and 18 punt return).
"NAU was making some plays on us on defense, but we were moving the ball," Collins said. "We've got to be able to punch it in when you get the ball on the four-yard line and we can't give up points like that, making mistakes like that on special teams. We had explosion plays that were called back because of dumb penalties."