It was a hard journey back to Flagstaff for the Northern Arizona football team after Saturday's game. The Lumberjacks fell to 3-4 (2-2 Big Sky) following a 44-0 drubbing at Sacramento State, snapping the two-game win streak Northern Arizona had put together previously.
The loss makes the coming matchup against Idaho that much more important.
In his regular Monday media session, Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball said his team, despite a few solid individual performances, were outmatched in every major aspect of Saturday’s outing. He was impressed with the players’ practice and energy heading into the game, but said the team simply got “punched in the mouth” and could not respond.
The result caused a miserable trip home.
“A lot of things go through your head after that loss. You get on the bus and get on the plane, and you start second-guessing everything, and people start questioning what you’re doing,” he said. “Do I believe what we’re doing is right? Yeah I do. I think we need to keep sticking to the script and moving forward.”
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However, the Lumberjacks do not have much time to mope. With a playoff bid still a possibility, Northern Arizona has the first of four remaining Big Sky battles this weekend with a game against Idaho on Saturday.
“We can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can move forward and put it to bed. There’s nothing you can do about it now,” Ball said.
The Lumberjacks have played inconsistent football this season, looking great and poor in different games. Such has been the bane of Ball’s young roster, and he has mentioned that he will feel most comfortable when the group is performing at a steady, high level for weeks at a time.
It is just a difficult task with a young roster.
Ball said there are several true freshman starters on defense, especially now with multiple former starters injured over the course of the season. Sacramento State took advantage by throwing the ball effectively on Saturday to the tune of 410 passing yards and three touchdowns.
The Lumberjacks will attempt to tailor the game plan in the secondary to make the jobs more simple for the inexperienced players, with the goal of not being beaten in the passing game like the Lumberjacks were Saturday.
“We had some guys that were really beat up in the secondary, so we had guys out of position, some guys that didn’t practice at camp. So we’ve got to figure out a way to help them out on the back end,” Ball said.
Northern Arizona did not have much positivity to express following its most lopsided loss of the season. However, there is still hope, Ball said, that the Lumberjacks can continue to progress and get better, and even vie for a playoff spot.
“We take care of business here and the door’s still open for postseason. I think if we went 7-4 with our schedule, we’d get in,” he said.
He said the team is not looking that far down the road, but a win against Idaho would help vault Northern Arizona into better spirits before a pair of tough home games against UC Davis and Montana in the following weeks, and a regular-season finale against Cal Poly on Nov. 20.
Simply put, Ball said: “It’s an opportunity to win another football game.”
Kickoff between the Lumberjacks and Idaho Vandals (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky) is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. in Moscow, Idaho.