Story and photo courtesy of Northern Arizona Athletics
MISSOULA, Mont. – The Northern Arizona football team snapped a 14-game losing streak and upset No. 14 Montana Saturday with a 41-31 victory. It was the first win for NAU over Montana since 1997 and the first win in Missoula since 1986.
"I could not be happier for our players and our coaches," said Head Coach Jerome Souers. "They did a great job across the board today. Nobody panicked and we went in at halftime and made some adjustments. They played their tails off and I want to thank everyone who stuck with us this long to get to this point."
NAU overcame a 17-point deficit with 34 unanswered points to take a 41-24 lead in the fourth quarter. The NAU defense forced four Griz turnovers in the second and third quarters, helping the Lumberjack comeback effort and resulting in 10 points in the decisive third quarter.
Trailing 24-14 at the half, NAU forced a UM fumble deep in its own territory and it was recovered by Brandon Phillips. Quarterback Cary Grossart hit RJ. Rickert for a 2-yard score to cut the lead. Lucky Dozier then intercepted Montana quarterback Trent McKinney, who was picked off three times on the day, on the next drive. The Lumberjacks converted with a 34-yard field goal by Wilder to tie the game at the 10:14 mark.
"It started with the preparation and Coach Thompson's e plan," said Dozier. "It was very accurate to what we were up against. All we had to do was execute our assignments and stay disciplined."
Wilder hit another field goal later in the quarter to give the Lumberjacks the lead for good. NAU then put the game away with two fourth quarter touchdowns by Bauman. Montana scored a late touchdown to cut the lead but NAU secured the onside kick and ran out the clock.
"I liked our composure," said Souers. "We didn't panic and we stuck with our plan."
Bauman finished with a career-high 253 yards on 29 carries with three touchdowns. Grossart was 16-for-23 for 138 yards and a touchdown in his first action in three weeks.
"You have to ride the guys that get you there," said Souers. "He was amazing from the way he started the game until the way he finished. He made some great cuts and great moves. He is our leader that our football team follows. When you have a guy like that, he is going to take you somewhere."
The game started with a big play from Bauman for the second consecutive game. After the opening kickoff, he broke open and ran down the right sideline 75 yards for a touchdown 11 seconds in the contest. The Griz responded with points via the field goal aided by a pass and catch from McKinney. Chris Lider hit the 27-yard field goal.
UM blocked an Andy Wilder punt on the next possession, setting up a short field for Montana. The Griz punched it in two plays later to take the 10-7 lead. McKinney scored on a 31-yard run to cap a nine-play, 73-yard drive to close out the first quarter wuth UM leading 17-7. The Griz scored again on the next possession to extend to the run to 24 unanswered points.
"When they scored that third touchdown, we just looked at each other and all I noticed was nobody gave up," said Dozier. "We are confident in our play and it spoke for itself today."
NAU stopped the bleeding early in the second quarter with an offensive drive started by a 36-yard pass from Grossart to Ify Umodu. Grossart completed three straight passes on the drive for 51 yards before handing off to Bauman, who pushed the Lumberjacks the next 15 yards to the 3-yard line. Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson scored on the next play to cut the lead to 24-14.
The Lumberjacks forced two Griz turnovers in the second quarter but were unable to convert them into any points, trailing 24-14 at the half.
NAU returns home to host Portland State next Saturday for the Family Weekend game. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:05 p.m.