NAU Claims Grand Canyon Trophy With Win Over Southern Utah

Photo courtesy: Maria Saldivar, NAU Athletics

It might be late February, but football is back at Northern Arizona and the season couldn’t have started off in better fashion for Chris Ball’s Lumberjacks. 

Like something you dream about in the backyard growing up, NAU won courtesy of a game-winning, walk-off touchdown as the horn sounded to defeat Southern Utah 34-33 on Saturday afternoon in Flagstaff. 

On the final play from the two-yard line, quarterback Keondre Wudtee dumped off a pass to running back Coleman Owen, who backpedaled into the end zone to secure the thrilling victory. A former Sports360AZ Valle Luna “Making A Difference” Athlete of the Week  at Higley High School, Owen broke down the final play.

“They rolled a safety down and it kind of got blown up but I just sat in the hole and Keondre put it where I could get it,” Owen said. “It was real emotional after the game. It was awesome.”

The final drive from NAU was eight plays and 51 yards in 53 seconds, and the game-winning score happened with two seconds remaining. The drive also spurred from a huge defensive stand just moments prior too, as the defense stood tall on a fourth and short to get the ball back to the offense with two timeouts and little time to spare.

After a slow first half offensively, things started to turn around when former Chaparral Firebird Kamdan Hightower intercepted a pass for a pick six to record the first NAU touchdown of the season. The play gave the Lumberjacks some life and they settled in. 

For someone playing in their first college game, Hightower was embracing the moment all day. 

“He’s a really smart football player and he understands our defense,” Ball said of Hightower. “I was talking to him before the game because I thought he’d be a little bit nervous. He says, ‘Coach, I’m not nervous. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.’ He showed up and he shows up everyday to practice and he’s just another great, great kid.”

Following the pick six, the two teams traded some more scores and going into the locker rooms, Southern Utah lead 20-15. 

The second half then turned into a shootout. Both teams traded touchdown scores, including when Wudtee found wideout Stacy Chukwumezie for 55 yards down the sideline for the first Lumberjack lead of the night. 

Wudtee would finish going 17-25 for 252 yards and two touchdowns, and the Lumberjacks would go on to prevail in a wild one in Flagstaff. After a tremendously long offseason, it was a welcomed reward for the program to see results after everything they have b been through over the last 12 months. 

“It was emotional from the beginning and the start of the day was emotional,” Ball said. “When you start to think about all the people that worked to make this happen…to put our players in a position to play a game and have some normalcy, is amazing. It’s absolutely amazing. You talk about service and changing lives and making a difference in people’s lives, it took this whole athletic department, our AD, our training room, the strength staff, and the coaching staff to get to this point. To get out there and play a game after all we’ve been through…It’s a blessing. I told the guys not to take this lightly. We’ve missed it.”