Late kick return for TD gives NAU win over Cal Poly

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) –– Marcus Alford returned a Cal Poly kickoff 96 yards in the fourth quarter to give Northern Arizona to a 17-13 win over Cal Poly Saturday night.

The Mustangs had taken a 13-10 lead on a 22-yard field goal by Bobby Zalud to start the fourth quarter.

The 19th-ranked Lumberjacks (6-2, 4-1 Big Sky) went up 10-7 in the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Chase Cartwright to Patrick Baldenegro with 47 seconds left only to watch Cal Poly drive from its own 37 to the NAU 22, where Zalud kicked a 39-yard field goal on the final play of the half to tie it up.

Cartwright finished 16 of 31 for 177 yards to lead NAU and Zach Bauman carried 24 times for 81 yards.

Northern Arizona (6-2, 4-1 Big Sky) was able to overcome a pair of fumbles and a missed field goal to earn the victory.

“It was incredible,” said senior linebacker Austin Hasquet. “We were down at one point, but we didn’t give up. We came out in the second half and kind of stunned them. It was a team effort.”

NAU took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter when Andy Wilder connected on a 37-yard field goal. That score held up until there were six minutes remaining in the second quarter, when Mustangs receiver Chris Nichols scored on a 33-yard reverse to put Cal Poly (3-5, 2-2 Big Sky) on the board.

NAU responded with Cartwright’s scoring pass to true freshman Patrick Baldenegro. The touchdown catch was the first of Baldenegro’s career.

After Cal Poly went ahead just seconds into the fourth quarter, Alford came up with perhaps the play of the game, taking the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for what turned out to be the decisive touchdown. It was the first kickoff returned for a touchdown by the Lumberjacks this season.

Hasquet led the NAU defense with a career-high 12 tackles and his second career interception. Senior safety Lucky Dozier tallied 11 tackles as well as a fumble recovery in the first quarter.