Utah Tech Beats NAU for First Win of Year
What a game by Utah Tech. The defense was relentless in the first half and Kobe Tracy and the offense were firing on all cylinders. After two tough games to the Montana schools, the Trailblazers put on a show in Flagstaff.
Here's the full press release from UT Athletic Media Relations:
Utah Tech opened its three-game road swing with an impressive 50-36 victory at Northern Arizona on Saturday afternoon at the Walkup Skydome.
With the victory, the Trailblazers (1-2/0-0 UAC) not only earned their first win of the 2023 season, they also broke a 14-game losing streak against the Big Sky Conference with their first-ever triumph against the long-time FCS league.
The Trailblazers dominated on both sides of the football in the first half, with the defense setting the tone by forcing a three-and-out on NAU's (0-3) opening possession.
Utah Tech's offense then went to work, covering 60 yards in just six plays to get in the NAU red zone. Freshman wide receiver Beau Sparks accounted for 51 of those yards, highlighted by a 43-yard catch and run when quarterback Kobe Tracy found him down the sideline for a big third-down conversion.
The Blazers would get to the Lumberjack 6-yard line, where the drive stalled and UT settled for a 22-yard Connor Brooksby field goal for the game's first points. Brooksby's boot was also another record breaker for the junior kicker as he became the program's all-time leader in points scored (139 points).
NAU answered with its lone sustained drive of the first half with a 10-play, 65-yard drive, which culminated with a Draycen Hall 4-yard run that gave the Lumberjacks their only lead of the afternoon at 7-3 lead with 1:47 to go in the opening period.
That lead would not last long as the Trailblazers quickly countered with a touchdown of their own just as the first quarter clock hit zeroes when Ronnie Walker Jr. fought through the pile from six yards out to make it a 10-7 game after the Brooksby PAT.
Utah Tech covered 75 yards in just four plays on the scoring drive, thanks to another big chunk play when Tracy found Rickie Johnson in stride for a 70-yard completion that flipped the field from the Blazer 23 to the NAU 7.
The second quarter was all Trailblazers as Utah Tech scored 27-unanswered points, thanks in large part to a stout defensive effort, to take a commanding 37-7 lead into the halftime break.
The defense, which surrendered only 62 yards total yards in the frame, turned away the Lumberjacks on their first possession on fourth and three near midfield when Dondi Fuller and Gabriel Valenzuela stopped Millner a yard short of the line to gain.
Tracy then led the Blazers on a six-play drive that covered 54 yards, which ended when the redshirt junior signal caller found Jaivian Lofton in the corner of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown connection to extend the UT lead to 17-7.
Utah Tech's defense then got into the scoring act as the Trailblazers housed two NAU turnovers to extend their advantage to 31-7.
Senior defensive lineman Sam Kanongata'a got the unit's first defensive touchdown of the season when on 3rd and 8 at the NAU 47, he picked off a Millner dump off across the middle and rambled 53 yards to pay dirt.
Then after a Utah Tech punt pinned the Lumberjacks deep inside their own territory, Millner could not handle a high snap and the ball bounded backwards to the NAU 9 where sophomore defensive back Amari Duncan scooped up the loose ball and sprinted to the end zone.
On NAU's next offensive play, back-up quarterback Adam Damante came on and fired his first pass wide of his intended receiver and into the waiting arms of Valenzuela for the 'Jacks third turnover of the quarter. Utah Tech also turned that miscue into Brooksby 48-yard field goal, and the junior kicker would tack on a 34-yarder as time expired to put the Blazers up 30 as they retreated to the locker room.
NAU managed to break its scoring drought with four minutes to play in the third quarter when Devon Starling capped a 14-play, 82-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. The Lumberjacks went on to convert a two-point play to cut the Blazer lead to 37-15.
Utah Tech clapped back on its ensuing possession, and wasted little time in doing so as Tracy took the shotgun snap, faked the handoff and hit Michael Moten in stride on a slant at the NAU 48. Moten then took it the rest of the way for a 60-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch to get the touchdown back just 1:18 later.
The Trailblazers would add another Brooksby 48-yard field goal as the third quarter wound down, and later nailed his school single-game record breaking fifth field goal from 40-yards out to push the Utah Tech lead to 50-15 with 8:28 to play in the fourth quarter.
That would be the last time Utah Tech would touch the ball on offense in over seven-plus minutes as the Lumberjacks scored three touchdowns in a 7:18 span to trim the deficit to 14 points with 1:10 on the clock.
Damante completed a 23-yard pass play to Marcus Phillips Jr. for the first score with 5:23 remaining. Then NAU would successfully execute two onside kicks, and turned both of those conversions into two Chase Belcher touchdown runs, the first from 32 yards out, and the other was 21-yard scamper.
However NAU was not successful on its third onside kick as Johnson snared the try after a big hop, and the Trailblazers managed to run out the clock and escaped with their first win of the 2023 campaign.
Utah Tech racked up a season-high 390 yard on the afternoon and did not turn the ball over. Tracy finished with a season-high 318 yards on 19-of-32 passing and two touchdowns. It was Tracy's fifth-career 300-yard passing game, and in the process, the junior moved into second place on UT's career total offense list (3,689).
Tracy hit seven different receivers on the day, with Johnson leading the way with 90 yards on three receptions. Johnson's afternoon also moved into eighth place on UT's career receiving yards list (1,444).
Meanwhile Sparks finished with 87 yards on a career-high tying seven catches, and Moten caught four balls for 79 yards to go with his touchdown.
The Trailblazers also combined for 72 yards rushing, with Walker Jr. accounting for 49 of those yards on 16 carries along with his first touchdown of the year.
Jared Fotu led the Blazer defense with 10 total tackles, while the trio of Syrus Webster, Jagger Williams and Will Leota collected nine tackles apiece. Webster (8.5 sacks) also recorded a third-quarter strip sack, which moved him into a tied for sixth place on the UT career sacks list.
The three Trailblazer interceptions defensively also tied for the eighth-most in the program's NCAA era, and tied for the most interceptions recorded in UT's NCAA Division I FCS transition. In addition, Utah Tech scored a combined 21 points on all five NAU turnovers (2 TDs/3 FGs).
NAU wound up outgaining Utah Tech by 59 yards as the Lumberjacks finished with 449 total yards, though 181 of those yards came in their fourth-quarter flourish. Damante tallied 247 yards on 22-of-31 passing, while Starling rushed for a game-high 111 yards on 15 carries.
Utah Tech continues its three-game road swing next Saturday with a non-conference tilt at Missouri State. Kick off at Robert W. Plaster Stadium in Springfield is set for 2 p.m. (CT).