Oct. 28, 2006
Northern Arizona piled up 541 yards in the game and scored 24-straight points in the second half to hold off Eastern Washington University 44-36 in a Big Sky Conference football shootout Saturday (Oct. 28) at Woodward Field in Cheney, Wash.
Eastern rallied behind backup quarterback Chris Peerboom with two touchdowns in the last 8:49 of the game. But Northern Arizona made big plays down the stretch to hold off the rally. The two teams combined for 1,005 yards of offense, with Eastern finishing with 464 after managing only 164 a week earlier in a 34-0 loss to Portland State.
Eastern is now 0-4 at home as it lost in its 80th Homecoming game. Eastern is just 2-7 overall and 2-4 in the Big Sky while Northern Arizona improved to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the league. The lone Big Sky losses for NAU were by a combined 10 points to Montana State (39-32) and league-leader Montana (24-21).
"We gave up too many big plays on defense," said Eagle head coach Paul Wulff. "We moved the ball well today on offense, but we still had some opportunities we didn't capitalize on. We dropped some balls and made some mistakes. But the bottom line is our kids played hard and whenever you do that you give yourself a chance to win."
Eastern trailed 44-22 in the fourth quarter before scoring on a pair of touchdown passes by Peerboom, the second with 2:32 remaining. Eastern just missed recovering the ensuing onside kick, then Northern Arizona picked up a pair of first downs to seal the win.
Peerboom rotated at quarterback with starter Matt Nichols, who left the game for good at the end of the third quarter with an injury. Peerboom completed 13-of-23 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns, while Nichols was 10-of-21 for 117 yards and a score. Nichols also scrambled for 42 net rushing yards despite getting sacked twice.
"At the end of the game NAU was playing a soft zone coverage and Peerboom made some nice throws and did a really nice job -- but so did Nichols," said Wulff. "I think they both did a nice job. Peerboom did a really nice job of helping us rally back at the end."
"We had a plan that we would rotate Peerboom and Nichols every two series in the first half," added Wulff. "Neither one of them warranted being pulled at all -- they both did some good things."
Kicker Brett Bergstrom made field goals of 27, 35 and 52 yards, making him 14-of-15 for the season. Punter Ryan Donckers punted four times for a 42.8 average, including a school-record 71-yarder with the wind at his back.
The steady wind, although only nine miles per hour when the game began, was a huge factor in the scoring. Of the 80 points scored by both teams in the game, 65 were scored with the wind at their backs. Northern Arizona scored 17 points in the first quarter and 21 in the third. Eastern scored 13 in the second and 14 in the fourth.
Safety Bryan Jarrett led the Eagles with seven tackles, and cornerbacks Ira Jarmon and DeNique Ford each had six. Linebacker David Eneberg, Eastern's leading tackler with 61 entering the game, played sparingly and had just three tackles after injuring his shoulder early in the game.
"(Eneberg) is a leader and an awfully good football player," said Wulff. "When someone like that goes out of the game it hurts."
Northern Arizona scored the first 14 points of the game, but Eastern stayed close thanks to Bergstrom's three field goals and a 4-yard touchdown pass from Peerboom to redshirt freshman tight end Nathan Overbay. Eastern trailed 20-16 at halftime, then took its only lead of the game to open the third quarter with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Brown's 29-yard touchdown reception from Nichols gave Eastern a 22-20 advantage.
But NAU put together touchdown drives of 71, 60 and 42 yards to pull away, and a 47-yard field goal by Robbie DeHaze gave the Lumberjacks a 44-22 advantage with 11:07 left.
Alan Henderson rushed for 265 yards and two touchdowns for NAU, and Jason Murrietta completed 14-of-22 passes for 238 yards and three scores. Alex Watson caught eight of the passes and two of the touchdowns.
"NAU has been scoring in the mid 30's all year, particularly in league play, so we knew there was a chance they could put up good offensive numbers," said Wulff. "I think we gave up a few more points than we anticipated giving up coming into the game."
"Henderson hit some big plays including one early on in the game on the second play. I have to watch it on film to see exactly what was going wrong on defense and why we weren't able to stop him."