TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Northern Arizona gave Arizona State a bit of
a scare for three quarters.
The 24th-ranked Sun Devils ended any ideas of an upset with an
offensive surge in the last 15 minutes.
Rudy Carpenter threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns, and the
Sun Devils rallied past Division I-AA Northern Arizona 35-14 on
Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.
"We wanted to get a win, and we got a win," Sun Devils coach
Dirk Koetter said. "You can't have it exactly how we want it."
Chris Baloney's 35-yard interception return on the first play of
the fourth quarter finally gave Arizona State its first lead at
"I was excited," Baloney said. "I didn't know what to do.
First interception in D-I and took it the house. I was so excited,
my son was in the stands -- I was overwhelmed."
Keegan Herring added a 15-yard touchdown run with 11:58 left,
and Dmitri Nance ran in from 6 yards to cap a late 91-yard drive
that put the Sun Devils in control.
"NAU has a different style of defense that we never really
see," Carpenter said. "They got three safeties, I would say they
do whatever they want. It was really confusing to us. We didn't
know who to block, who to throw to."
Carpenter was 17-of-24 with one interception, and Arizona
State's defense sacked Jason Murrietta nine times, including three
by Derron Ware.
"It was very important to set the tone," said Ware, who had
eight tackles. "(Defensive coordinator) Bill Miller said before we
walked out, 'We might be up first and we need to set the tone of
"We had a lot of blitz calls where I could get a free rush. I
could just use my speed to get past them to try and get some
Murrietta completed 15 of 20 passes for 259 yards and two long
scores, keeping the Lumberjacks tied through three quarters.
"We played well through the third quarter," Murrietta said.
"However, our numbers got to us. I think if we played again we
Baloney opened the final quarter by stepping in front of
intended receiver Kenny Mahone and ran untouched for the score. On
Arizona State's next possession, Herring took a handoff right,
found no room and reversed field, went back behind the 25 and found
the left corner to cap a three-play drive.
"I credit Arizona State," Lumberjacks coach Jerome Souers
said. "They made plays that wore us down at the end and that
became obvious. Some of the big plays that we were able to
generate, we weren't able to do them consistently enough."
The Lumberjacks held off the Sun Devils in the second half by
intercepting a tipped pass by Carpenter in the end zone and then
stopping Arizona State at the Northern Arizona 1 on fourth-and-goal
with 8:07 left in the first quarter.
Northern Arizona scored twice in the first half on big plays.
Murrietta hit Alex Watson with touchdown passes of 80 and 60 yards
to give the Lumberjacks the lead both times. Watson caught 11
passes for 206 yards.
Murrietta scrambled and almost was sacked by Kellen Mills before
getting the ball to Watson behind Sun Devils safety Zach Catanese
with 5:44 left in the first quarter to give Northern Arizona a 7-0
Arizona State answered with a seven-play, 56-yard drive, capped
by Carpenter's 13-yard to Shaun DeWitty with 13:36 left in the
But Murrietta and Watson hooked up again with 6:13 left on a
screen to the right that put the Lumberjacks back up 14-7.
The Sun Devils took advantage of a 12-yard punt by Rhian Madrid
that gave Arizona State the ball at the Sun Devils 40 with 1:52 to
go until the break. Carpenter hit DeWitty on a quick 21-yard out,
and connected with Ryan Torain one play later on a screen as Torain
outran the defense for a 39-yard score to tie it at 14.
"We had a great chance to get off to a super start and we throw
an interception in the red zone on the first drive, and then we get
four chances inside the 5-yard-line and can't punch it in on the
second drive," Koetter said. "So we have no one to blame but
Carpenter, a sophomore who played half a season last year after
an injury to starter Sam Keller, was named the starter on Aug. 20,
two days after Koetter said Keller, a senior, would start.
Keller subsequently quit the team and transferred to Nebraska.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Chris Baloney's 35-yard TD on an interception return in the fourth gave ASU its first lead. The Lumberjacks upset bid crumbled after that.
Gameball goes to... Northern Arizona's Alex Watson. The Lumberjacks wide receiver caught 11 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns.
Stat of the game... 60, 80: Watson burned the Sun Devils with touchdown catches of 60 and 80 yards to keep the Lumberjacks close.