Northern Arizona San Diego Football

Northern Arizona’s Maurice Davison (20) jumps to defend a touchdown by San Diego's Justin Priest Saturday evening in the Walkup Skydome.

Benji Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun

With their offense struggling early on, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (7-5) fell behind early and failed to battle back against the San Diego Toreros (10-2) in Saturday’s FCS first-round playoff game at the Walkup Skydome.

Going three-and-out on its first four drives, Northern Arizona allowed 17 points to San Diego before recording its first first down of the night, eventually losing 41-10. Along with the Lumberjacks' struggles on offense also came poor field position for its defense, with the Toreros starting at an average of the Northern Arizona 49-yard line for their first four drives.

After a punt on its opening drive, a 24-yard field goal by San Diego’s Patrick Murray put the Toreros on the board roughly eight minutes into the game. From there, Northern Arizona’s quick exits on the offensive side allowed San Diego to drive through two short fields for passing touchdowns.

Anthony Lawrence hit Justin Priest, who reached back with his right hand with his body parallel to the ground, in the left corner of the end zone to cap off a seven-play, 48-yard drive late in the first quarter. The run continued just 1:57 later, with a 35-yard drive ending in a fourth-and-1 touchdown pass from Lawrence to a wide open Ross Dwelley, who found himself behind the defense that got lured in by the play-action.

Northern Arizona finally ended the run, with its fifth drive tallying 82 yards after the first four went for negative 29, as Terrell Brown caught his first career touchdown pass from six yards out. Electing to move quarterback Case Cookus out of a constantly collapsing pocket, Northern Arizona put its quarterback on the move with success.

Finding Justis Stokes open on back-to-back roll-out throws, Cookus then hit Hunter Burton for a pair of quick passes before the quarterback broke off a 32-yard run with a personal foul adding 15 to the end of the gain. Brown put Northern Arizona on the board on the next play, jumping over the coverage for a score in the left corner of the end zone.

However, San Diego erased Northern Arizona’s progress on the Lumberjacks' next drive. Strip-sacking Cookus on third-and-10, Jonathan Petersen inched closer to the NCAA FCS career sacks record and put the Toreros offense 14 yards away from the end zone.

After an incomplete pass, Emilio Martinez rolled into the end zone from 14 yards out and San Diego retook a 17-point lead at 24-7.

Little changed in the second half, as Northern Arizona’s offense struggled with turnovers. It committed two more and reached three in a game for the first time since its Sept. 9 loss against Western Illinois.

Held scoreless for the final 31:12 of the game, Northern Arizona allowed another 17 points by San Diego, with the Toreros kicking a 27-yard field goal early in the third before Zach Nelson rushed in for a 1-yard touchdown and Dwelley scored his second fourth-down, play-action touchdown from 13 yards out.

Northern Arizona managed just 238 yards in the second half and finished with its lowest total since 232 against Montana State in 2013, along with 53 penalty yards by San Diego, and finished the game 2 of 13 on third down.

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Cody Bashore serves as the beat writer for Northern Arizona University basketball and football in addition to covering high school sports around Flagstaff for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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