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Lumberjacks' long wait for postseason football is over

NAU ends 10-year postseason drought, prepares for matchup of elite running backs.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Northern Arizona plays its first postseason football game in 10 years Saturday, hosting the South Dakota State Jackrabbits at 6 p.m. at the Walkup Skydome.


NAU enters the postseason with a six-game winning streak. The Lumberjacks are 9-2 overall and ranked No. 8 in The Sports Network FCS poll.


South Dakota State, ranked No. 13, is 8-4 and playing in the postseason for the second consecutive year and third time overall. The Jackrabbits were eliminated by North Dakota State in last year's quarterfinal round. They have won four in a row since losing 35-21 to Missouri State on Oct. 19.


"We worked hard to get here," said NAU coach Jerome Souers. "We maintained our focus the entire season, as our philosophy was to never look ahead. We only focused on the game in front of us. I'm proud of the way that the guys have approached this season, but we're not done yet. There's a lot of football to still be played."


The teams played a pair of common opponents during the regular season. NAU defeated North Dakota 48-27 and South Dakota 22-16. South Dakota State defeated North Dakota 35-28 and South Dakota 27-12.


The game will feature a matchup of two of the best FCS running backs in the nation. The Jackrabbits' Zach Zenner ranked second in the FCS with 1,695 yards and 20 touchdowns. The Lumberjacks counter with a workhorse Zach of their own: Zach Bauman, who ran for 1,355 yards (his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season) and eight touchdowns.


"It's the playoffs, so you need to turn it up a notch when you get on that field," Bauman said. "I've been here for four years, and my last year I finally make the playoffs. We worked so hard, putting in the grind, and we're finally starting to get some national recognition, but we feel we're still being looked over, so we have to put even more work in."


South Dakota State also has a capable passing game triggered by Austin Sumner, who has thrown for 2,628 yards and 18 TDs. His favorite target is 6-foot-5 Jason Schneider, who comes into the game with 985 receiving yards.


Kyren Poe (1,386 yards, six TDs) and Chase Cartwright (721 yards, eight TDs) have split the quarterbacking duties for the Lumberjacks.


NAU would appear to have the edge defensively, giving up 343.7 yards and 21.6 points per game, compared with South Dakota State's 393.8 yards and 24.5 points.


The Lumberjacks and Jackrabbits have met only once before: a 24-20 NAU victory back in 1985.


The game will be televised by ESPN3 and broadcast on the radio at KBTK 106.1 FM and Money Radio 1510 AM and 99.3 FM.


Saturday's winner will advance to the quarterfinals against third-seeded Eastern Washington.