Before Saturday night it had been six years since the Northern Arizona football team beat an FBS school, but that streak was put to an end after a 30-10 win over the UTEP Miners in El Paso, Texas.
“It feels great -- I’m really proud of our kids,” Lumberjacks head coach Jerome Souers said in a postgame interview with NAU Athletics.
Northern Arizona held control for the majority of its season opener despite some losing key players early in the game.
Starting running back Cory Young would leave the game early and not return with an apparent leg injury after running for 30 yards and one touchdown.
Early in the second quarter, starting left guard Malik Noshi exited the game with an injury and also did not return, leaving an already inexperienced offensive line with a hole to fill.
With under three minutes to go before halftime, starting cornerback Maurice Davison was ejected for targeting after hitting a UTEP receiver in the head following an errant pass.
Due to Davison's ejection coming in the first half, he won't be forced to miss time next week against Eastern Washington.
“We had some injuries tonight, but we had guys step up, our coaching staff made some great adjustments and I really feel like we got after them tonight,” Souers said.
Before the injury bug hit the team, Northern Arizona jumped out quick on both sides of the ball.
Northern Arizona's defense forced a turnover on the opening UTEP possession when Wes Sutton picked off quarterback Ryan Metz, who would be replaced on the next Miners drive with former Texas quarterback Kai Locksley.
Locksley would remain under center until late in the fourth quarter.
Young scored on the ensuing drive on a one-yard run on the right side of the line.
After three-and-outs by both Northern Arizona and UTEP, Locksley turned the ball over inside UTEP's own territory. The Lumberjacks settled for a 26-yard field goal by Griffin Roehler to give themselves the early 10-0 lead on the ensuing possession.
Later, from inside Northern Arizona territory on its own 16, Case Cookus found Emmanuel Butler deep down the middle and Butler caught the pass after bobbling the ball a few times, leading to a 84-yard TD to give Northern Arizona a 17-0 lead following the PAT.
The Miners answered the scoring drive with one of their own after Northern Arizona defensive back Elijah Orr was called for two pass interference penalties that kept the drive alive for the Miners. UTEP scored on a 32-yard backyards pass to running back Quardraiz Wadley to cut the deficit to 10 after the extra point.
After a quick three-and-out by Northern Arizona, UTEP would score on a 26-yard field goal from the right hash to put the score at 17-10 going into the second half after Davison’s targeting call kept the drive alive for UTEP.
That field goal by UTEP would be the final points it would score as Northern Arizona closed the game with two unanswered touchdowns in the second half.
Northern Arizona scored on the first drive of the second half, ending in a six-yard TD by Butler from Cookus, his second of the game. Butler finished the night with six receptions for a game-high 138 yards and two TDs and tied the Northern Arizona’s all-time TD reception record of 28 following the second score.
The second score of the half came from Northern Arizona running back Joe Logan when he ran the ball into the end zone from eight yards out immediately following a 59-yard interception return from safety Kam’ron Johnson.
Cookus finished the night 19 for 26 passing with two TDs and one interception thrown early in the third.
Defensively, Northern Arizona forced two interceptions and one fumble. The defense allowed 102 rushing yards and 127 passing yards to the Miners, most of which Locksley accounted with over half of his team’s offense with 139 yards of total offense.
Northern Arizona will play its home opener Saturday against Big Sky Conference opponent Eastern Washington in a nonconference game. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome.