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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona’s redemption: all-around team victory over NAU in season opener

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Caroline Bailey
Arizona football linebacker Jacob Manu (5) flexes over a member of the NAU football team at the first home game of the season. The Wildcats secured a 38-3 win.

In a highly anticipated season opener, the Arizona football team took to the field under the leadership of head coach Jedd Fisch, who was determined to avenge the bitter memory of their last encounter with NAU. These two schools last faced off on September 18, 2021, when Arizona suffered a shocking 21-19 loss.

However, with the Wildcats’ new-look roster, Fisch made sure not to let history repeat itself.

Saturday night’s attendance of 48,159 marked the most for an Arizona home opener since drawing 51,002 against BYU in 2018, underscoring the anticipation surrounding the game.

The final score displayed on the scoreboard at the end of the night read: Arizona 38, NAU 3.

NAU’s 3 points were the fewest allowed by the Arizona defense since holding the University of California Berkeley to three points during a 10-3 victory in 2021, highlighting the immediate defensive improvement.

It was also the fewest points allowed by the Wildcats in a season opener since shutting out NAU 35-0 to kick off the 2013 season.

Offense:

Leading the charge on offense was quarterback Jayden de Laura, whose stat line of 18-for-24, 285 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, combined with 47 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, showcased his versatility. De Laura appeared more poised and patient in the pocket and, for the most part, did a great job extending plays with his legs.

Running back Michael Wiley contributed with 109 all-purpose yards, 52 of which came from rushing on 10 attempts and 57 from receiving on six catches.

Jonah Coleman, another dynamic running back, added 88 all-purpose yards, including a receiving touchdown. Fisch also took note of the running backs.

“We’ve been talking about [the running backs] all year,” Fisch said. “They all catch, they all go through pass routes every day with us; they are really good runners. In addition to being really good runners, they have an ability out of the backfield that makes them a dual threat.”

Wide receivers Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Cowing, often considered the playmakers, each found the end zone as well. McMillan recorded 65 receiving yards on three receptions, while Cowing contributed 38 yards on three receptions.

Defense:

The defense also showed its strength, with Martell Irby leading the way with seven tackles, one tackle for loss and two pass breakups. Fisch commended the defensive effort.

“I think that we showed that our defense has improved,” Fisch said. “They played with great passion, great energy; that was nice to see.”

Jacob Manu and Taylor Upshaw also made significant contributions to the defensive effort as well.

Special teams:

Special teams played a pivotal role in the game-changing moments. An 85-yard field goal block returned for a touchdown in the third quarter was the Wildcats‘ first in 21 years, a feat achieved by Ta’ita’i Uiagalelei and Tacario Davis.

“It was an amazing 85-yard field goal return for a touchdown, which I was told was the longest since 1996 in the Pac-12,” Fisch said.

Kicker Tyler Loop also successfully converted his 10th consecutive field goal in the fourth quarter, which keeps him perfect (14-for-14) from 30-39 yards in his career.

In summary, it was a dominant performance by the Arizona Wildcats in their season opener against NAU

“I thought that it was good to see everybody work to get better every play, and they took the challenge of being a physical football team tonight,” Fisch said.

This victory served as redemption for the Wildcats, softening the painful memories of their last meeting with NAU. With their new-look roster and a strong showing in all facets of the game, Arizona looks ahead to their next challenge against Mississippi State University, a familiar opponent. They aim to continue to build off this victory as they head on the road next Saturday, Sept. 9, to face off against a tough Southeastern Conference opponent in Starkville, Mississippi.


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