After recording just one play of more than 10 yards in the first half, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks came out firing after halftime as they held onto the Grand Canyon Trophy.
Quickly hitting passes of 37 and 42 yards, the Lumberjacks (2-2) then built up a dominant run game that included four second-half rushes of at least 14 yards and carried NAU to a 28-20 victory against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (1-5) on Saturday night in Cedar City, Utah. NAU produced 28 unanswered points, turning a 14-0 deficit less than a minute before halftime into a 28-14 lead early on in the fourth quarter.
Three of the scores came on consecutive drives, with the Lumberjacks first getting on the board thanks to a quick drive right before halftime. Trailing 14-0 after Lance Lawson’s 1-yard touchdown run with just 52 seconds in the second quarter, it was a pair of key throws by Keondre Wudtee that set up NAU’s first score of the game.
Facing a third-and-7 situation at his own 40-yard line, Wudtee found Hendrix Johnson open on the sideline for a 9-yard completion. Two plays later, Wudetee unleashed a high arcing throw that landed in the arms of Coleman Owen at the SUU 5.
Temporarily breaking free from a tackler, Owen ended up just a yard away from scoring 13 seconds before halftime. A rush for no gain and a timeout left the Lumberjacks facing second-and-goal at the 1 with 10 seconds remaining.
Faking the handoff to George Robinson, Wudtee rolled slightly to his right where freshman Kevin Daniels stood wide open in the flats. The 1-yard touchdown was the first score of Daniels’ career and sent the Lumberjacks into halftime trailing 14-7 and set to receive the kick to open the second half.
NAU then quickly cashed in to start the second half, with a 37-yard reception by Brandon Porter on third-and-12, setting up George Robinson’s 15-yard touchdown on the eighth play of the drive.
Lined up to the left of Wudtee, Robinson took the handoff and went right with no Southern Utah defender in sight and capped off the 80-yard drive that covered just two minutes and nine seconds of the third quarter.
Following a stop of Southern Utah’s offense, NAU set up at its own 12, with Robinson immediately breaking off a 14-yard gain to get the drive started. Wudtee pushed through the line for a 2-yard run on third down to keep the drive alive before hitting Stacy Chukwumezie along the sideline for a 42-yard gain.
Wudtee pounded the ball into the end zone three plays later, giving the Lumberjacks their first lead of the game at 21-14 with 4:26 left in the third quarter.
Having come up with crucial takeaways in their battle with Weber State two weeks ago, NAU did the same once again at Southern Utah.
Dayne Christiansen split the Lumberjacks defense for a 19-yard gain, but Tristen Vance popped the ball out with Johnathan Phenix falling on the fumble early in the fourth quarter. A quick 7-play, 63-yard drive was capped off once again by Wudtee, who broke into the end zone from 17 yards out. Wudtee’s fake handoff to Robinson drew in the middle of the Southern Utah defense and a pump fake while rolling right froze the defense on the edge.
Wudtee finished the game hitting 23 of 35 passes for 289 yards with the lone touchdown pass to Daniels. Adding 38 yards on the ground, Wudtee accounted for two more scores while Robinson rounded out the scoring and led the Lumberjacks with 82 yards on 18 carries.
Southern Utah finally stopped the bleeding with a Justin Miller touchdown pass to Landen Measom, but the drive ate up 4:45 of the remaining 7:13 left in the fourth quarter.
Kicking the ball deep with 2:21 left on the clock, Southern Utah’s plan for a quick stop failed as Robinson and Wudtee combined to run out the clock and clinch the victory.
Though the second half included the three scoring drives, going for 80, 88 and 63 yards, NAU’s offense struggled to sustain drives early on. Just one play, Owen’s 50-yard catch, went for more than 10 yards and just one of NAU’s six drives lasted longer than 2:20.
SUU opened the game’s scoring with a 16-yard touchdown reception for Measom with 9:05 remaining in the second quarter. The Thunderbirds reached the red zone thanks to a 37-yard run by Lance Lawson to begin the early second-quarter drive, Southern Utah’s biggest play of the day.
Just one drive later, the Thunderbirds put together a 14-play, 93-yard drive to eat up more than six minutes of the second quarter. Converting twice on third down, Southern Utah steadily moved down the field with just one play going for more than 15 yards. After both Lawson and Christiansen recorded catches of 15 yards, the former took a direct snap up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown.
NAU returns home for the season-finale against the Idaho Vandals (2-3) Saturday, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome