A crowd of over 50,000 fans filled Arizona Stadium on Saturday night to witness the inevitable: The Wildcats crush the Lumberjacks. It became a matter of not who was going to win, but how impressive the Wildcats would look doing it.
This season has been hyped up for all it is worth, with aspirations and expectations of the Blue and Red going to a bowl game and fighting for the nation's hard-earned respect and attention. Saturday was the perfect game for the Cats to show their talent and leave the Wildcat faithful begging for more. First impressions last a lifetime (or in this case, a season).
There were many different chapters written in this game. The story started and ended as expected, but there were many twists in the middle of the script that no one could have foretold. Domination, disappointment, frustration, and brilliance were all inclusive in this David and Goliath match up, but, in the end, the Wildcats delivered as promised.
At first glance, the stadium looked like a big red blip on radar in Tucson, Arizona. The student section left no one sitting throughout almost the entire game and the little pool of blue and yellow was easily swallowed up by the overwhelming, excitement-driven, rowdy and excited home crowd, which seemed to be the only consistent aspect of the game.
Any team would be pumped to play in front of a crowd like that of Saturday night. The Wildcats were no exception. The first half spelt domination for the Wildcats in every sense of the word.
Mike Bell was brilliant, scoring a touchdown on the first drive, while rushing for nearly 100 yards in the first half. Richard Kovalcheck threw for over 200 yards and two touchdowns, capping off the half with his second touchdown to tight end Brad Wood.
The Wildcat defense shut down the Lumberjacks offense, limiting NAU star Jason Murietta to five passing yards while giving up only three points. The first half alone surpassed the performance of last year's frustrating 21-3 win.
The Wildcats special teams were nothing special. In the first quarter alone, the Lumberjacks converted a fake punt for a first down followed by a blocked field goal by defensive menace Kevin Gerard three minutes later, who later picked off Kovalcheck with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
Now I can understand a blocked field goal and maybe an interception (even though it was thrown in triple coverage) - every team gets those once in a while. But a fake punt for a 16-yard gain and a first down is ridiculous, especially considering the circumstances. The look on Wildcat head coach Mike Stoops' face was priceless.
After ending the first half with a touchdown and a comfortable 24-3 lead, the Wildcats got sloppy and Murietta woke up from his slump. Murietta found his feet and ran all over the Wildcats in the second half, not to mention completed more passes in the first drive than he did all first half.
Lumberjacks' coach Jerome Sauers must have spoken some pretty inspiring words in the locker room, because the Lumberjack offense came firing right out of the gate.
After scoring on their first drive with a wide open, one-yard, play-action touchdown pass from Murietta to 6'6'' receiver Kory Mahr, the Lumberjacks cut the lead to 14. They also decided to stiffen up their defense as well.
The first offensive drive by the Cats ended in a bad snap on fourth down that forced a safety and gave the Lumberjacks something to cheer about. The Wildcats' third quarter ended scoreless with a total offensive production of 6 yards.
The fourth quarter was a little better for the Wildcats, as they put the nail in the coffin with a one-yard run up the middle by fullback Gilbert Harris. But Murietta and the Lumberjacks would not give up.
Sophomore running back Chris Henry took the reins from Bell and did quite well, but after a hard hit that caused him to lose the ball and his helmet, Stoops abruptly halted his playing time. The Wildcats defense cleaned up the mess that the offense left on the table and held the Lumberjacks scoreless in the fourth, finishing off a dismal second half.
Positively speaking, the Wildcats played very well in the first half and the last few minutes of the second half. They controlled the ball for almost 20 minutes in the first half, had 298 total yards, and 18 first downs. Besides the special team debacle, the Cats looked like the team we have all been waiting for.
Negatively speaking, the Wildcats decided to coast for the rest of the game. Either that or the Lumberjacks were not ready to play at the scheduled seven o'clock kick off. Unlike last week, the second half of this game was the Wildcats' worst half. They came out flat and careless. Fortunately, they were playing a team from I-AA.
Next week's game against #12 Purdue will be interesting. Will we see the Wildcats of the first half (minus the special teams), or will we see the team that let the Lumberjacks back into a game that should have been a massacre?
Only time will tell.
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