Northern Arizona went into its Week 3 road game facing some injury questions, but still was favored to win. However, the No. 20 Lumberjacks (1-2) left Missouri with a 40-8 blowout loss to unranked Missouri State (2-1).
With multiple starters out, injuries played a role in the loss, but costly penalties, mental mistakes, the inability to capitalize off turnovers and stop the Missouri State rushing attack were all more substantial to the 32-point defeat Saturday afternoon.
The Lumberjacks struggled in all phases of the game against the Bears and head coach Jerome Souers said it simply was just a bad showing.
“It was just awful out there,” Souers said. "For as many good plays that we made on defense at times to create turnovers, we just looked awful. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything quite like it today.”
In just the first half, Northern Arizona had 22 points that easily could have been scored but were not because of penalties, a fumble at the goal line and a missed extra point.
A 41-yard run by Nate Stinson that would have tied the game at 7 was called by for a block below the waist, and a Brandon Porter reception was called back for a block in the back.
Missouri State knocked in a field goal following Stinson's called-back run and did not score after picking off Lumberjacks quarterback Daniel Bridge-Gadd, immediately following Porter's call-back score.
In place of Case Cookus, who was ruled out for the game, Bridge-Gadd went 25-for-42 passing for 257 yards and threw one touchdown and three interceptions.
With the score at 10-0 in favor of Missouri State after the interception off Bridge-Gadd, the Northern Arizona defense picked off Bears quarterback Peyton Huslig on two straight possessions, but the offense didn’t score off either of the chances.
After the second interception, Northern Arizona was threatening to break in, but Nate Stinson fumbled at the goal line and the Bears took over.
Immediately after, Huslig fumbled the ball himself for another turnover, which Northern Arizona capitalized on after Joe Logan took a screen pass 48 yards to make the score 10-6 after a missed extra point by Griffin Roehler.
The score ended up as the only points scored by the offense.
The Northern Arizona defense picked off Huslig two more times in the half, but the offense again did not score off the interceptions.
Shortly after a touchdown run by Jason Randall gave the Bears a two-score lead at 17-6, Justis Stokes made a costly and questionable mistake for Northern Arizona.
The defense forced Missouri State to punt with under two minutes left in the half, potentially giving the offense a chance to cut the lead down to one score.
But on the punt, rather than letting Missouri State down the ball inside the 10-yard line, Stokes reached down in a crowd of Missouri State defenders and touched the ball leading to the Bears regaining possession.
On the ensuing short-field drive, Huslig ran in a short touchdown run to put the halftime score at 23-6.
From then on the game was all Missouri State. Nothing Northern Arizona did the rest of the way worked on its way to a six-turnover loss.
"We were out of our minds with dumb mistakes,” Souers said.
While Northern Arizona only scored off one of its five takeaways, Missouri State scored off two of its six takeaways -- both off punt return fumbles by Stokes, with the second coming early in the third quarter.
The final two points that Northern Arizona scored came when Missouri State took a safety so they could have more room for a punt after the outcome was already decided.
On the ground, Randall consistently did damage to the middle of the Lumberjacks defense, which was without starters Chauntez Thomas, Taylor Powell and Wes Sutton. Randall finished with 20 carries for 181 yards and two touchdowns, and averaged 9.1 yards per carry. Northern Arizona gave up 297 yards on the ground to the Bears and allowed 6.6 yards per rush.
Huslig was responsible for all five of his team’s turnovers with four interceptions thrown and one fumble -- all in the first half -- but he also ran for a touchdown a threw for another.
Stinson was carted off the field late with an injury and Emmanuel Butler did not play due to injury to add to the long list of injuries for Northern Arizona just three weeks into the season.
With now just the eight-game conference slate remaining for 1-2 Northern Arizona, earning a playoff berth became more difficult.
The safe benchmark to even be considered is seven wins -- meaning Northern Arizona needs to win six of its eight remaining games to even have a shot at the postseason. The team hosts Southern Utah in next week's Big Sky opener at 4 p.m.
BIG SKY ROUNDUP
W. ILLINOIS 31, MONTANA 27
MACOMB, Ill. (AP) — Sean McGuire threw for three touchdowns and Eric Carrera's late interception preserved the lead as Western Illinois edged Montana 31-27 on Saturday.
The Leathernecks (1-2) were trailing 27-17 late in the fourth quarter when Steve McShane took a punt return 58 yards for a score, cutting it to 27-24. Zach Muniz recovered a Montana fumble on the next exchange, setting up an 11-yard scoring pass from McGuire to McShane six plays later, giving Western Illinois a 31-27 lead with 2:39 to play. Carrera's interception of Dalton Sneed ended Montana's final drive.
STANFORD 30, UC DAVIS 10
STANFORD, Calif. — Stanford made it through its season-opening three-game homestand unscathed. But with the schedule about to get much tougher, the Cardinal know they will need to be much better the next few weeks to remain perfect.
The Aggies tried several tricks, going for it five times on fourth down calling three pass plays by receiver Carson Crawford. But none of it worked against a Stanford defense that hasn't allowed a TD in 11 straight quarters. UC Davis also had a field goal blocked by Casey Toohill and botched a snap on a punt to set up a field goal for the Cardinal.
WASHINGTON ST. 59, E. WASHINGTON 24
PULLMAN, Wash. — Gardner Minshew threw for 470 yards, James Williams ran for three touchdowns, and Washington State beat Eastern Washington 59-24 on Saturday night to avenge a 2016 loss to its FCS neighbor.
Gage Gubrud threw three touchdown passes but was intercepted three times for Eastern Washington (2-1), which upset the Cougars 45-42 in Pullman in 2016.
CALIFORNIA 45, IDAHO ST. 23
BERKELEY, Calif. — California's offense got off to a slow start and the defense struggled to finish for a third straight game. Three big plays by Ashtyn Davis in between helped tilt things in the Golden Bears' favor.
Tanner Guellar passed for 179 yards and a touchdown, Mitch Guellar caught six passes for 156 yards and a score and Ty Flanagan had an 11-yard TD run for Idaho State. The Bengals (1-1) were 2 for 14 on third down.
MONTANA ST. 47, WAGNER 24
BOZEMAN, Mont. — Freshman quarterback Tucker Rovig threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns to lead Montana State to 47-24 win over Wagner on Saturday.
MSU (2-1) weathered a game-opening 98-yard kickoff return by Denzel Knight, who also had a 48-yard return later in the first quarter. Wagner (1-2) scored after both returns, but the Bobcats scored 30 first-half points to keep the Seahawks at bay.
Rovig hit Kevin Kassis for two scores and true freshman Isaiah Ifanse for another. Ifanse finished with 146 yards rushing, including a 73-yard touchdown, and 72 yards receiving. Kassis had nine catches for 126 yards.