(AP) — Closing up the gaps in its defense and finding some in Arizona's, Northern Arizona had another FBS program on its heels.
One unfortunate pass ruined all of the Lumberjacks' momentum.
Trevin Wade intercepted Cary Grossart on Northern Arizona's second play of the third quarter and the Lumberjacks never recovered, unable to stop Arizona in the second half of a 41-10 loss to the Wildcats Saturday night.
"That turnover was a big, big momentum changer," said Grossart who completed 16 straight passes before the interception. "You can't turn the ball over against teams like this, you just can't do it."
Northern Arizona had played the two bigger Arizona schools close the past two years and had the Wildcats reeling after dominating most of the second quarter.
The Lumberjacks just couldn't keep it going.
Ahead by just four at halftime, Arizona gained momentum after Wade's interception, and Nick Foles followed with three of his five touchdown passes, turning a tight game into a rout.
Grossart threw for 179 yards on 20 of 26 passing, while Zach Bauman ran for 99 yards on 27 carries for NAU.
"We're a team and we know that we'll bounce back," Bauman said. "We just have to keep our heads up. We didn't give up, even after the interception. We just kept driving on every possession."
Arizona flew around the field while building a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, then went stagnant in the second, allowing Northern Arizona to get within 14-10. With three Top-25 teams next on the schedule, the Wildcats couldn't afford a letdown against a smaller in-state opponent.
Triggered by Wade's interception, Arizona pulled away in the third quarter, with Foles hitting Keola Antolin, Richard Morrison and Austin Hill on touchdown passes.
Juron Criner also caught a TD pass, finishing with six catches for 151 yards, and Foles threw for 412 yards on 34-for-42 passing to prevent an embarrassing open to the season.
"The interception by Trevin was a big momentum shift and really loosened the game up for us," Arizona coach Mike Stoops said.
The Wildcats were hoping Northern Arizona would serve as a warmup for a schedule that's about to get real tough.
After the Lumberjacks, Arizona has a short turnaround for a road game against No. 9 Oklahoma State on Thursday. Two home dates follow: against No. 7 Stanford and Heisman Trophy favorite Andrew Luck on Sept. 17, then third-ranked Oregon on Sept. 24.
With plenty of new players, including the entire offensive line, the Wildcats needed this game to build some confidence — for the inexperienced guys and the ones who suffered through the season-ending five-game losing streak in 2010.
Everyone looked good early against Northern Arizona.
Foles opened by hitting Criner on a 42-yard play-action pass, then floated in a 10-yard touchdown pass to him in the corner of the end zone two plays later.
Arizona kept rolling, Taimi Tutogi making it 14-0 in the closing seconds of the first quarter on a 5-yard TD run through a huge hole off right tackle.
Arizona's defense was good, too, swarming the Lumberjacks while holding them to 14 yards on 12 plays.
Rout on the way, right? Not quite.
Once the second quarter started, the offense sputtered, with the running game nonexistent — five yards on six carries in the first half — and Foles unable to find his receivers as readily.
Grossart started to find some seams going the other way, picking the Wildcats apart to go 16 of 17 for 145 yards in the first half.
Matt Myers hit a 28-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, and Grossart found Khalil Paden on a 12-yard touchdown pass in the closing seconds of the half, getting NAU within 14-10.
It wasn't too much of a surprise that Northern Arizona kept it close; the Lumberjacks were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Arizona State last season and had the Wildcats still in their sights at halftime the year before.
"Our defense made a couple nice stops and on offense we started to find that rhythm — the receivers made a couple of nice plays, ran after catches," NAU coach Jerome Souers said. "Guys did a nice job of getting ourselves back in it at that point, (but) it was just unfortunate we couldn't build on it."
Arizona was still in a fog to open the second half, going three-and-out.
Wade's interception jolted the Wildcats back.
Stepping front of a receiver on NAU's second play, Wade made the pick at the 12-yard line, and Antolin scored on a swing pass the next play, bowling over a defender, tightroping the sideline then diving the final few yards to the pylon.
Morrison followed with a 24-yard touchdown reception from Foles across the middle, and Hill all but sealed it with his first career catch, a 24-yard TD that Arizona up 34-10.
Arizona's defense was just as dominant, holding Northern Arizona to 25 yards in the third quarter and no points in the second half.
"The second quarter was disappointing in our ability to get off the field," Stoops said. "I thought we played much better in the second half."
It's a good thing, too, with the schedule the Wildcats face coming up.