Hitting the road to face an opponent who has just moved to the FCS level might seem odd for the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, but the chance to put an extra game on the schedule was too good to pass up.
Abilene Christian is in its first season as a member of the Southland Conference after spending the 2013 season as an FCS Independent. The school played a mix of Division II and FCS opponents last year, but fields a normal schedule this season thanks to its new conference affiliation.
“We haven’t used the 12th game in years past for various reasons,” said head coach Jerome Souers. “We didn’t want to play a D-II, we already had a D-II on the schedule. So we wanted to play somebody that was a challenge like the team we are playing. As a staff, we thought it was in our best interest to get a game even though it was on the road.”
It’ll be Northern Arizona’s first trip to Texas since losing in overtime at Stephen F. Austin in the second game of the 2004 season.
Souers added that the chance to get into the routine of playing on the road early is helpful while trying to integrate so many new players into the team.
The alternative would be another early bye week for the Lumberjacks, something that Souers said is unneeded so early in the season and after just one game. He added that with the new group, in-game experience is much more valuable than more rest. The Lumberjacks already have a bye week placed pretty well on the schedule, coming on Oct. 11 after six of the team’s 12 games.
Last season, Northern Arizona played at Arizona in the first week of the year and then took a week off before heading to UC Davis. The Lumberjacks came out slow in that game, scoring just one touchdown through the first 51 minutes and trailing 10-7 before Lucky Dozier and Marcus Alford each took back fourth-quarter interceptions for touchdowns to win the game.
Although Abilene just moved up to the FCS level, the school already gave FBS opponent Georgia State a scare in its opener. The Wildcats led 37-28 after a touchdown with 6:36 remaining in the game, but Georgia State rallied for a game-winning field goal with four seconds left to avoid the upset.
“They all count, but they are not conference games,” Souers said. “We get the chance to iron out our wrinkles and see what our shortcomings are. We saw some last Saturday.”
Northern Arizona took notice of Abilene’s high powered offense, which put up 403 passing yards thanks to quarterback Parker McKenzie. The sophomore finished the game 30 of 40 with four touchdowns and an interception.
“They are for real,” Souers said. “That quarterback of theirs is the real deal; he moves the pocket around, he does the zone read and they are no-huddle.”
Souers also called attention to Abilene’s top defensive end Nick Richardson, who totaled eight solo tackles that included four for a loss and two sacks, saying he is as good a pass rusher as the team will see all season.
The game kicks off at 4 p.m. with coverage starting at 3 p.m. on 106.1 FM.