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
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
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
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
"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