Instant Recap: ASU football 44, NAU 13

The Sun Devils struggled in the first half but dominated in the second.

ASU football kicked off its 2016 season with a strong — and at times sluggish — win over in-state foe Northern Arizona, pulling away late for a 44-13 victory Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.

The season-opening win marked the start of the Manny Wilkins era at quarterback for ASU. The redshirt sophomore signal-caller finished his first start as a Sun Devil 20-of-27, 180 yards, and an interception through the air. Wilkins was also ASU's leading rusher with 89 yards and a touchdown.

After returning an NAU pooch-punt to the 44 yard line, the ASU offense got right to work on their first series of the season. Wilkins led the Sun Devils on a seven-play drive that featured seven run plays, scampering for a 13-yard touchdown run to give the Sun Devils an early 7-0 lead.

The Lumberjacks threatened with each of their next two drives, but both stalled as the ASU defense bent but didn't break, surrendering just three points despite being out-gained 212-169 in the first half.

ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez capped the first half scoring with a 33-yard field goal. The Sun Devils nearly gave up a tipped-pass for a touchdown on the final play of the half, but would hold on to take a 10-3 lead into the locker room.

NAU opened the second half with a nine play, 69-yard drive, but could only muster three points as ASU's defense came up with a goal line stand to preserve the lead at 10-6.

The Sun Devils would get the points right back when Gonzalez drilled a career-long 53 yard field goal to cap an eight play drive, putting ASU up 13-6.

ASU's defense would stiffen during the following drive, forcing NAU into its first punt of the second half. The stop would come at a price, however, as junior linebacker Marcus Ball was ejected on a targeting call with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter. It was the first targeting ejection for ASU during the Todd Graham era, and will force Ball to miss the first half of next week's game against Texas Tech.

The Sun Devils would then wear down NAU with a 15-play drive to close out the third quarter, capped by a two-yard touchdown run from junior running back Demario Richard to give ASU a 20-6 lead. Richard finished the night with 78 yards on the ground to go along with the score.

After the defence forced another Lumberjack punt, ASU would all but put the game away with a 34-yard touchdown rushing touchdown from freshman wideout N'keal Harry, giving the Sun Devils a 26-6 lead.

NAU then countered on the first play of their next drive with an 87-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Case Cookus to wide receiver Elijah Marks, but it would prove too little too late. Marks finished with 174 receiving yards on the night to lead an NAU passing attack that carved the Sun Devil secondary for 369 yards through the air.

The Sun Devils tacked on late rushing touchdowns from junior Kalen Ballage and sophomore Nick Ralston to widen the margin. ASU would finish things out for a 44-13 win, improving to 1-0 on the year.

ASU now looks ahead to its first FBS matchup of the season next Saturday against Texas Tech at Sun Devil Stadium.

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