Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for Arizona football, this happened:
The Wildcats lost to NAU. The FCS school the UA pays to come to Tucson to play. The school the UA hadn’t lost to since 1932.
If the Territorial Cup blowout against Arizona State was rock bottom for the program, this was a close second.
The final score was NAU 21, Arizona 19. That is not a typo.
"Very disappointing," said first-year UA coach Jedd Fisch, whose team fell to 0-2. "Credit to NAU. They came in here, they battled, they had a good plan. They did a lot of good things. They stayed with it.
"Our players are hurting right now. We've got a very upset locker room.
"We've got our work cut out for us, and we've got to get back to work immediately."
At least not that many people bore witness to one of the worst losses in the history of UA athletics. Saturday’s game was televised by Pac-12 Networks, and the announced attendance was 33,481 — the first crowd under 35,000 for a UA home game since Arizona Stadium’s capacity increased to 50,000 in 1976 (not including last year, when fans weren’t allowed to attend games because of the pandemic).
The defeat extended Arizona’s school-record losing streak to 15 games. It’s the longest losing streak in the nation, and it’s hard to find any likely victories on the horizon. The Wildcats open Pac-12 play next week at No. 4 Oregon.
"We don't accept losing," Fisch said. "We are not in this, working as hard as we work, to lose. We have to be better, and we're working to be better.
"We need to come up with some wins. We need to compete. We need to keep battling.
"But we also have to stay the course. We also have to understand that we're in a situation here where we're trying to build something special for the long haul. ... But doing that, we're going to go through some bumps and bruises early on."
Like Arizona, NAU entered Saturday night 0-2. The Lumberjacks had been outscored 76-23 by Sam Houston and South Dakota.
"It's embarrassing," said veteran receiver Stanley Berryhill III, who had a game-high 11 catches for 94 yards. "You don't want to lose to what most people consider your little brother up north. NAU is an FCS school, and they're a great school. But it's been 15-1, now 15-2, in the last 17 (meetings)."
The last time NAU beat Arizona — on Oct. 29, 1932 — the school in Flagstaff was known as the Northern Arizona State Teachers College. The final that day was 7-6.
Since then, the Wildcats had won 14 consecutive meetings. They scored 62-plus points in each of the previous three matchups.
Arizona could only manage 19 against NAU this time. Fisch turned to Will Plummer at quarterback. After a promising start, Plummer threw a pair of interceptions. Fisch subbed in Jordan McCloud in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats had 13 points with 13:05 left in the first half. They wouldn’t score again until McCloud’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Boobie Curry with 2:16 remaining.
Arizona had to go for two to try to tie the score. But McCloud, under pressure, couldn’t get the ball to BJ Casteel.
The ensuing onside kick attempt was unsuccessful.
Berryhill was asked what he'd say to UA fans who were hoping to see improvement after last year's 0-5 record. He asked them to keep giving the team their support.
"If we don't get the outcome we want, just keep supporting us because we're trying as hard as we can," Berryhill said. "It's not like we're just going out there and expecting to lose every game.
"I know they're frustrated, just like we are. But it's life. Things happen. So just we're gonna come back (Sunday), go over the film, and Monday we're back to work."
For the most part, the defense did its part. Seven NAU points came off a Plummer pick-six late in the first half that arguably swung the game.
But penalties proved costly in the second half. Two Wildcats were guilty of targeting in the third quarter. Defensive end Mo Diallo and safety Jaxen Turner were both disqualified. They’ll have to sit out the first half at Oregon.
Turner’s foul had dire consequences. It propelled NAU into scoring range. The Lumberjacks took advantage, grabbing a 14-13 lead on Kevin Daniels’ 12-yard touchdown run with 4:16 left in the third quarter.
Hendrix Johnson’s 9-yard TD catch from RJ Martinez — a true freshman making his first career appearance — bumped the Lumberjacks’ lead to 21-13 with 7:53 to play.
Arizona held a 13-0 advantage before the pick-six made it a one-score game.
Plummer, a second-year freshman making his second career start, telegraphed a pass to the left side toward Berryhill. Brady Shough stepped in front of it and returned it 28 yards for the score, trimming Arizona’s lead to 13-7 with 1:48 remaining in the second period.
Arizona’s special teams provided a needed a spark in the first quarter. Berryhill’s 53-yard punt return set up Lucas Havrisik’s 31-yard field goal, which gave the Wildcats a 3-0 lead with 5:13 to play in the first quarter.
The lead was Arizona’s first in a game since the first half vs. Colorado last season, a span of 14 quarters. The punt return was the Wildcats’ longest since Shun Brown’s 63-yarder vs. UTEP on Sept. 15, 2017.
Arizona’s next score produced another first — the first touchdown of Curry’s UA career. Curry ran under Plummer’s pass down the left sideline for a 49-yard TD that bumped the Wildcats’ lead to 10-0.
The firsts kept coming. On the ensuing series, linebacker Kenny Hebert intercepted Jeff Widener. It was Arizona’s first takeaway of the season and the first pick of Hebert’s career. Another field goal, from 24 yards, made it 13-0 with 13:05 left in the half.
The turnovers kept coming — for both teams. Arizona had three takeaways and three giveaways. The Lumberjacks scored 14 points off turnovers, the Wildcats just three.
"All these mishaps and mistakes, it’s unacceptable," said linebacker Treshaun Hayward, who had a team-high eight tackles. "I don't take losing lightly. I don't like to lose.
"We've got to come out every game and play as hard as we can and get a W. That's what we’re playing for. You play football to win. Period."
• Starting defensive tackle Trevon Mason did not suit up because of an undisclosed injury. Mason, a fifth-year senior, has been one of Arizona’s most productive defenders. He has 12 tackles, including two stops for losses. Paris Shand took Mason’s place. It was the first career start for the second-year freshman. Fellow Canadian Diallo also made his first start for Arizona at the “Anchor” position.
• Offensive linemen Jordan Morgan and Donovan Laie started after missing time last week. Morgan sat out much of the second half after not suiting up for the season opener because of a lower-body injury. Laie missed most of the second half vs. San Diego State after getting rolled up in a pile.
• Widener started at quarterback for NAU in place of listed starter Keondre Wudtee, who’s been out since suffering an ankle injury in the Lumberjacks’ opener. Oregon transfer Cale Millen also played in the first half. Martinez played the majority of the snaps.