The smell of fresh turf, sweaty jerseys and stadium popcorn filled the air inside the Walkup Skydome as NAU kicked off their season against the Missouri State University (MSU) Bears. After a slow first quarter, NAU found some success in the deep passing game Thursday rolling past the Bears 37-23.
NAU’s freshmen flooded the field for the running of the freshmen tradition and there was a moment of silence in memory of offensive tackle Malik Noshi prior to the national anthem. Senior linebacker Brandon Worthy carried Noshi’s jersey out on the field as the Lumberjacks met MSU at the center of the 50-yard line for the coin toss before the game began.
The game began with 10 Lumberjacks on the field to honor Malik Noshi as their eleventh man playing on their side. MSU declined the delay of game penalty.
NAU scored the first touchdown of the night when sophomore wide receiver Brandon Porter caught a 55-yard throw to junior receiver Stacy Chukwumezie, extending the lead to 13-6.
Junior tight end Matthew Kempton went down from a low tackle after completing a pass in the second quarter. He limped off the field, being escorted by the team trainers.
“Unfortunately [Kempton] getting hurt really sucks but that’s football. Guys get hurt and you have to step up,” senior tight end Joey Gatewood said.
NAU took control after a rocky and mistake-riddled first quarter finishing with a 20-6 lead. This was a huge turnaround from their appearance last season when MSU defeated NAU 40-8.
“First game, you know everyone has jitters and make mistakes including myself,” said senior quarterback Case Cookus. “But overall, we started meshing better and that was on all fronts.”
Porter had two additional catches, scoring the first three touchdowns for the Lumberjacks and putting NAU ahead by 21 points early in the third quarter. However, Porter wasn’t finished. He ended the night with 140 yards and 3 touchdowns, new career highs to start off the season.
Gatewood opened up potential opportunities with two catches for large gains to finish the night with 79 receiving yards and a new career catch of 43 yards. Cookus aired out the Skydome throwing 18-29 for 290 yards and 2 touchdowns, making his presence known early in the season with tonight’s performance.
MSU attempted a comeback by scoring a touchdown in both the third and fourth quarters to bring the score to 37-23. The Bears could not get out of the deficit as NAU took the win 37-23 to complete the first game of the season.
“The blaring mistakes from [tonight were] our penalties,” NAU head coach Chris Ball said. “Way too many penalties. Way too many stupid penalties and things we have to get settled next week.”
With the win, NAU starts the season 1-0 and will head to Tucson to take on the UA Wildcats in an Arizona school rivalry matchup Sept. 7 at 7:45 p.m.