Hornets face Lumberjacks without top quarterback

Updated: October 10, 2003, 5:02 PM ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- While Northern Arizona quarterback Jason Murrietta continues to dazzle in his first season, Sacramento State will be without its top signal caller when the Lumberjacks come calling.

Sacramento State lost Ryan Leadingham for the season when he broke the wrist on his left (non-throwing) hand last week in a loss to UC Davis.

In just 2{ seasons, Leadingham was the school's all-time leader in passing yards, attempts, completions and touchdowns.

In his place, the Hornets (2-3, 1-0 Big Sky) will turn to sophomore Blake Mori, who was 9-for-14 with 89 yards and two touchdowns against Davis.

"It's difficult because you don't know what his strengths are," NAU coach Jerome Souers said. "I just know they a have a lot of talented players."

NAU (4-1, 2-0) enters this game with the same record it had last year at this time. A loss to the Hornets at home sent the Lumberjacks on a downward spiral, and they lost four of their last six games.

The difference this year has been production at quarterback.

While Clint Womack struggled most of last season, Murrietta has flourished. He threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns last week in a 48-29 win at Weber State, becoming the top freshman signal caller in either branch of Division I with a 156.6 efficiency rating.

"You take a guy like Jason Murrietta who is getting the ball to different places on the field, he probably expands that position and augments the talent we have on the perimeter," Souers said. "It opens a lot more facets of our offense that maybe weren't there last year."

The Lumberjacks' only worry is keeping Murrietta remains healthy. Womack and senior Guy Tomcheck quit the team this season, leaving untested Nathan Van Peursem as Murrietta's backup.

NAU will have to contend with Hornets running back Tyronne Gross.

Gross had a streak of three straight 100-yard games snapped last week, but he has a 240-yard effort against Idaho State to his credit this season. Wide receiver Fred Amey, who ranks seventh in I-AA with 102 yards receiving per game, also worries Souers.

"Fred Amey is as big-play of a player as there is in the conference," Souers said. "They highlight him as a receiver and as a returner. When he has the ball in his hands, he can take it to the house."

If the Lumberjacks win, they'll be 3-0 in conference play for the first time since 1996, with three of their final Big Sky contests at home, including games with nationally ranked Montana and Idaho State.

"This is our third conference road game in a row," Souers said. "We need to stay focused on what we're doing."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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