The Lumberjacks faced Illinois State University Saturday, their first ranked opponent this season. Both teams came into this game with a 2-1 overall record and played well in the first half, but the Lumberjacks struggles in the third quarter, which ultimately lead to their second loss of the season. The Redbirds beat the Lumberjacks 40-27, sending the Lumberjacks to a 2-2 record.
Two turnovers occurred within the first minute. Redbirds senior running back James Robinson fumbled the ball, which was recovered by NAU. This was followed by an interception by Redbirds sophomore defensive back Charles Woods. The Redbirds scored the first touchdown after the interception with a 10-yard pass from junior quarterback Brady Davis to sophomore wide receiver Andrew Edgar.
NAU was able to answer, tiring the Redbirds defense and scoring on back-to-back drives. Senior quarterback Case Cookus threw a 9-yard pass to senior running back Joe Logan and a 5-yard pass to redshirt junior Stacy Chukwumezie.
The weather started to become a factor in the game as it started to rain with two minutes left in the first quarter.
The Redbirds were then able to have two promising drives. Two field goals by senior kicker Sam Fenlason made the score 13-14, NAU leading. The Lumberjacks offense was able to find the endzone again after being stopped two possessions in a row. The 5-yard touchdown by Logan thrown from Cookus was set up by an interception by NAU freshman linebacker Jaden Tauanu’u, who set the NAU offense up at the Redbirds 42-yard line. NAU took a two scoring lead 21-13.
After being held to only 1 yard on nine running attempts, Robinson was able to find a hole right through the middle of the NAU defense and score a 52-yard touchdown. Illinois was able to have one more possession to kick a field goal as the teams entered half time, giving them the Redbirds the lead 23-21.
There were two dominant performances by players of both teams. Cookus completed 19-25 of his passes with three touchdowns and reaching a milestone of over 9,000 career passing yards. For Illonois, Edgar had nine catches, 144 yards and one touchdown.
The second half started no different with two turnovers right off the back. Cookus threw his second interception to Redbirds senior linebacker Ty Deforest and Robinson had his second fumble, which was recovered by the Lumberjacks again.
Then the third quarter came when the Redbirds dominated the Lumberjacks. In the entire third quarter, the Lumberjacks weren’t able to score, and only had 51 yards of total offense. While NAU struggled, the Redbirds found success by scoring two touchdowns, which put them ahead 37-21. Illinois State's touchdowns included a 20-yard run by Robinson and a 53-yard throw from Davis to Edgar.
NAU found their first success of the second half with their first drive in the fourth quarter. Cookus threw his fourth touchdown during a running back screen to Logan for a 23-yard touchdown, Logan's third touchdown of the game. With a failed NAU two-point conversion to make it a one possession game the Redbirds took a comanding lead 37-27.
The nail in the coffin was when NAU failed to pick up fourth-and-14 on their own 17-yard line with 5:34 left in the fourth quarter, allowing the Redbirds to score another field goal.
The biggest struggle for the Lumberjacks this game was containing Edgar, who was escorted off with a shoulder injury, but ended the game with 228 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lumberjacks travel on the road again in their first conference game against the Montana State Bobcats Sept. 28. The Bobcats are on a three-game win streak with an overall record of 3-1.