NAU Football Trying To Finish Strong After Loss To UC Davis

With two games remaining on its 2021 schedule, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks football team (4-5) is looking to save its best for last after a 40-24 home defeat at the hands of the seventh-ranked UC Davis Aggies. The Lumberjacks led 17-11 in the second quarter, but fell behind and never regained the lead.

“They’re motivated,” head coach Chris Ball said. “We have an opportunity to have a winning record. We have a great group of kids, and our culture is in a good place. They’re competitors and they want to win. There were a lot of guys disappointed last Saturday.”

The Lumberjacks used four quarterbacks over the course of the game, as starter R.J. Martinez and backup Jeff Widener both exited early with injuries. Ball hinted that both Martinez and Widener would be available for this Saturday’s home finale against tenth-ranked Montana, but remained coy on which one would start. Instability at quarterback has been a theme for Northern Arizona from the outset of the season, and it appears as though that will continue to be the case down the stretch.

Even if they win both of their remaining games, it remains unclear as to whether or not the Lumberjacks’ record will be sufficient to earn one of the 24 spots in the FCS playoffs. Nevertheless, Northern Arizona is hoping to send its 14 seniors off on a high note and gain experience for future postseason pushes.

“You’re always looking towards the future,” Ball said. “We’ve got to learn to play at a high level at this time of the year. How we do that is we don’t let up, we don’t cut practice, we don’t cut meetings. We stick to the plan, and I think that makes you better. One of our goals that we talk about is ending the season with a win. If you’re in the playoffs, that means you’re national champs, and if you’re not, at minimum you feel good going into winter conditioning and spring ball.”

Although NAU’s season has been a mixed bag overall, Ball is still optimistic about the future of the program, and he sees the final two games as an opportunity for the team to prove that they deserve to be treated as a contender moving forward. Winning out will not be an easy task, but it is entirely necessary for the Lumberjacks to gain positive momentum heading into 2022.

“I think we’re in a good place,” Ball said. “I think the players are confident in where we’re headed but we can’t lower the standard and let up this part of the year. We have to get used to being in a good place in November and fight through it and finish. We’ve got two weeks to finish the season the right way, and that’s by winning games and playing with great effort and energy.”