Coming off a week where the UC Davis offense racked up over 50 points against Idaho State, the Aggie offense struggled to score and lost to Northern Arizona 21-7.
The loss dropped the Aggies to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky while the Lumberjacks improved to 6-1 and maintained their perfect record of 4-0 against Big Sky opponents.
This was the first time that the two schools ever played each other and started off the game with each offense struggling to figure out the opponent’s defense.
“I thought both teams played very hard. It was a physical game and a lot of really hard hitting out there,” said head coach Bob Biggs.
The Aggie defense did a good job limiting the Lumberjacks offense, which had scored 40 points in three of its last four games and was ranked 20th in the FCS in scoring (33.7points per game).
The focus on defense was to stop the Northern Arizona running back Zach Bauman, who was ranked number seven in the FCS in rushing and had five straight 100-yard rushing games. Bauman ended up with 122 yards on the ground while also racking up another 51 yards and a touchdown receiving.
“I thought we contained Bauman for the most part,” Biggs said. “Besides the shovel pass and the big play before halftime I thought our defense played well.”
The game was scoreless into the second quarter where the Lumberjacks connected on a 17 yard touchdown pass.
Both defenses held strong, leading to a copious amount of punts from both teams. Senior punter Colton Schmidt punted seven times for a 46.1 yard average while the Aggie defense forced the Lumberjacks to punt 10 times throughout the game.
“Coming out, we had a good game plan, our coaches have prepared us each week with a good game plan,” said senior linebacker Byron Gruendl. “This week I think we picked up on their tendencies and what type of plays they were running.”
Gruendl finished the game with a team high of 10 tackles as well as a sack. The Aggie defense totaled three sacks throughout the game in addition to 11.0 tackles for loss and three from redshirt freshman Walter Earnest himself.
“We knew what type of plays they were running before they even ran them, but today they were just making good plays and we were missing tackles,” Gruendl said.
The Aggie offense struggled to put points on the board after last week, when they scored over 50 points with 600 plus yards on offense. The Aggies had an especially hard time converting on third down, only converting three out of their 15 opportunities.
“We ran the ball well, but unfortunately we couldn’t sustain drives,” Biggs said. “We had good field position but we just couldn’t finish the drives.”
Senior running back Marquis Nicolis led the team with 85 yards on the ground on only 12 carries. Junior quarterback Randy Wright had a tough outing, only completing 12 of 28 passes for 181 yards and two interceptions.
After trailing 21-0 throughout the entire game, redshirt freshman running back Courtney Williams scored on a two-yard run with 8:05 left in the 4th quarter to try and spark a comeback.
The next possession, senior linebacker Jordan Glass made an interception, giving the Aggie possession on their opponent’s 30-yard line.
The turnover was huge, considering how Northern Arizona had not committed a turnover in 18 quarters prior to this matchup.
The comeback attempt failed when Williams was stopped on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Lumberjacks with under five minutes left in the game.
A factor in the game was the high altitude of the opposing teams stadium.
“I think personally it did and I had to get used to it after the first quarter, but once I got going it was fine, it just takes some getting used to,” Nicolis said.
Next week, the Aggies return home to take on Portland State at Aggie Stadium.
JASON MIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.