SDSU’s football team has won five straight games and in each of those games, they’ve turned the tide with one key series of events. So the hopeful Jackrabbit fans were probably hoping the same would occur in the team’s first round battle at Northern Arizona. They were not disappointed.
The penultimate point in the game tied all three phases together nicely across 65 seconds of gametime and put the game safely in Jackrabbit hands.
After an SDSU three and out at the NAU 47 yard line, Ethan Sawyer boomed a punt to the 3 yard line, where it was downed. Sawyer had seven punts that averaged 44 yards and had four land inside the 20 yard line. Good work and the Lumberjacks suffered from poor field position all day, starting their drives at their own 18, on average. The Lumberjacks picked up a false start to move them back to the one yard line and the Jacks did the rest, stopping a first down handoff to standout running back Zach Bauman who tried to run around the Jackrabbit defense before T.J. Lally finally brought him down four yards deep in the corner of the end zone, putting SDSU ahead with a safety, 9-7.
After a safety punt was returned by Arizona native JeRyan Butler to the Lumberjacks 39, two Zach Zenner runs had the Jackrabbits in the end zone again. The latter of those runs was a 34-yard scamper that would have deflated the Walkup Skydome, if the stadium had an air-supported roof and was held up the hopes of NAU fans. SDSU led 16-7 with 6:49 left in the third. That felt like the dagger and it was, with the Jacks cruising to a 26-7 win.
Just like Austin Sumner to Brandon Hubert for overtime game-winning pass against UNI. Just like the Winston Wright interception return for a touchdown at USD. Just like the two red zone interceptions against Kurt Hess in Youngstown. When SDSU has needed the game-changing moment, they’ve gotten it.
All of that and more will be tested at Eastern Washington this week in the second round.
While Northern Arizona seemed like it was undecided on its passing game, the Jacks’ opponent this week is decidedly not that way. EWU passes for 359 yards per game (3rd best nationally in the FCS) and the whole show runs through quarterback Vernon Adams, who is one of three finalists for player of the year in FCS.
Adams accounted for 518 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, leading an upset of Oregon State by 49-46 score in the season opener. It’s the Eagles that are the last team other than NDSU to win a national championship, beating Delaware in the 2010 title game, 20-19. This year, since two September losses, EWU has rattled off eight straight wins. And they play on a blood red field that will probably have you reaching for your glasses when you fire up the web stream of the game Saturday. (3 p.m., ESPN3.com)
So SDSU will have its collective hands full. But any team playing Eastern this season has been in that boat and the Jackrabbits should feel good about the way that they’ve been playing. This is exactly the type of game SDSU would win if their program is about to turn the corner into something more than just a playoff team.