10:00 PM ET, September 4, 2004
Arizona Stadium, TUCSON, AZ
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -- Mike Stoops' debut as a head coach was no overpowering blowout. But the man trying to rebuild the tattered Arizona football program called it "a great win" nonetheless.
Mike Bell carried 31 times for 118 yards, including touchdown runs of 2 and 9 yards in the Wildcats' 21-3 victory over Northern Arizona Saturday night. Kris Heavner completed 18 of 23 passes for 171 yards and a score for the winners.
"I love the way our team played," Stoops said. "I think we have the makings of a really good football team. There were a few things I wished we could have done differently, but what a great test of our toughness and conditioning."
Arizona led 7-3 most of the night against the Division I-AA Lumberjacks before putting the game away with a pair of touchdowns in the final 10 minutes.
Stoops, who as co-defensive coordinator helped his brother Bob build a powerhouse at Oklahoma, was hired to rebuild the Wildcats after the tumultuous tenure of John Mackovic -- fired midway through last season.
Arizona defenders intercepted Jason Murrietta three times. Murrietta, the Big Sky Conference player of the year as a freshman last season, completed 20 of 37 passes for 176 yards. Roger Robinson gained 101 yards in 20 carries.
Arizona, 2-10 a year ago, took the opening kickoff and went 80 yards in 19 plays, capped by Bell's 2-yard TD run. On the drive, Arizona converted on fourth-and-1 with Bell's 2-yard run to the Lumberjacks' 27. Heavner's 26-yard pass to Syndric Steptoe set up the score.
Bell's fumble on Arizona's next possession was recovered by Northern Arizona's Vince Henman at the Wildcats' 26. Paul Ernster's 22-yard field goal cut the lead to 7-3 with 13:02 left in the first half.
The score stayed that way through the next two quarters.
"There was a lot of frustration," Bell said. "A lot of times last year we probably would've just sunk in. But this time we have a great coaching staff around us. We did a good job out there."
Arizona finally mounted another scoring drive in the fourth quarter, when Heavner and Steptoe connected on a 37-yard play to the Lumberjacks' 17. Three plays later, Bell scored from the 9 to make it 14-3 with 9:56 remaining.
Arizona's final score came after John Buckley fellb a yard short on a fake punt attempt, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Lumberjacks' 36. Heavner threw 13 yards to Steptoe for the score with 5:40 remaining.
"We were our own worst enemy on offense. We took ourselves out of some good situations," Stoops said. "Defensively, I was really pleased with the way we played all night."
On its first possession of the second half, Arizona drove to the Northern Arizona 40. But on fourth-and-1, the Wildcats' Nic Costa switched from wideout to quarterback on a last-second shift, then was dropped for a 3-yard loss.
The Lumberjacks threatened to take the lead when Roger Robinson ran 30 yards to the Arizona 13. But he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating at the end of the run. On the next play, Kory Mahr took a pass over the middle, then fumbled after a hard hit by Darrell Brooks. Sean Jones recovered for the Wildcats at the Arizona 17, and Mahr had to be helped from the field.
"That was our game," Murrietta said. "We had our opportunities. That's the bottom line. Our overall effort was unbelievable. We should have won that game."
Northern Arizona, 14th in the Division I-AA preseason rankings, lost to a Division I-A team for the 12th straight time.
"We showed a alot of grit tonight, but we just didn't play well enough at times," NAU coach Jerome Souers said. "We know this is going to be a good football team. We just need to clean up some little things."
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-15||8-16|
|4th Down Conversions||1-3||1-2|
|TD||5:56||MIKE BELL 2 YD RUN (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 16 plays, 80 yards.
|FG||13:02||PAUL ERNSTER 22 YD FG|
Drive info: 8 plays, 20 yards.
|TD||9:56||MIKE BELL 9 YD RUN (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 69 yards.
|TD||5:40||SYNDRIC STEPTOE 13 YD PASS FROM KRIS HEAVNER (NICHOLAS FOLK KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 36 yards.