It has begun: Stoops era begins with 21-3 win

It wasn't the way the Wildcats wanted to start the Mike Stoops era, but Arizona prevailed 21-3 over Northern Arizona. The Wildcats never put the Lumberjacks away and needed two fourth quarter scores to get the win.

Syndric Steptoe took a swing pass 24 yards for the Cats' final score and locked up the win in a game that was much closer than most observers thought it would be. Steptoe finished with three catches for 74 yards.

Arizona played a mistake free game, but could not get much going offensively. The Wildcats scored on their first drive but did not score again until late in the fourth quarter.

The defense forced four turnovers, including three interceptions. The late Lumberjack mistakes allowed Arizona to ice the game with two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes.

Kris Heaver had the best game of his young career. The sophomore quarterback completed 17-24 passes for 171 yards and one TD. He took what the defense gave him and escaped without throwing an interception. In fact, he made just one bad decision all day.

"He was pretty much flawless," Stoops said. "We put a lot of pressure on him and I think his mechanics were great all night."

Mike Bell was the team's workhorse, carrying the ball 31 times for 118 yards and two scores.

"We rode that horse pretty hard tonight. Mike is a fabulous athlete. Probably ran him a little too much, probably should have subbed him a little bit more."

Offensive coordinator Mike Canales wants a ball control offense and the first drive couldn't have gone any better. The Wildcats marched 80-yards, taking 16 plays over 9:04 before Mike Bell punched it in for a two-yard score.

Bell actually touched the ball the first seven plays, as the Wildcats tried to establish the run right away. Although the Wildcats drove the ball down the field, they needed to convert a third and long and a fourth and one to keep their momentum going. On third and nine from the 26 Heavner avoided the blitz and hit Syndric Steptoe over the middle. The diminutive receiver juked a defender and scooted to the two. Bell scored on the next play.

The Wildcats survived a Bell fumble that gave NAU the ball at the 26-yard line. Despite converting on first fourth and one, the Lumberjacks had to settle for a short field goal on fourth and one from inside the ten.

The Wildcats then went on a 41-minute scoring drought. The Cats got back on the board after a Darrell Brooks interception gave them decent field position. Heavner found Steptoe for a 3-yard gain and two plays later Bell took a pitch around the left side and scampered nine yards for his second score.

Steptoe closed out the scoring with his TD.


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