MISSOULA – It’s challenging enough to win a road game in college football. Fall behind on your opponent’s first play? Even more difficult. Add on top of that a team that lacks intensity, and it’s nearly impossible.
The Montana Grizzlies found that out in embarrassing fashion Saturday in Flagstaff, Arizona, when the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks jumped out to an early lead on their first play and never looked back.
“You don’t have to get yourself up to play in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. The fans will do that because we have an awesome environment,” said head coach Bob Stitt.
“You go into an environment on the road that isn’t like ours, and we came out just… flat. Didn’t play with any intensity. Didn’t match any of their intensity at all, and they outplayed us. Flat outplayed us.”
In the box score of Montana and Northern Arizona, it would seem as if the final score perhaps be switched around. The Grizzlies outgained their opponent in rushing and passing yards, as well as totaling over 100 yards more than the Lumberjacks.
However, Montana turned the ball over on downs four times, and did not convert a fourth-down at all in the game. The Grizzlies also gave Northern Arizona four first downs from penalties. Two of those first downs ultimately resulted in NAU touchdowns. In total, Montana was penalized 12 times for 107 yards, a season-high in both categories.
“When a little adversity hit us, or somebody said something to us, we’d pop them instead of walking away,” Stitt said. “We’ve got to be mentally stronger than that, and we had been.”
“I’ve been really proud of the team and how we’ve handled those situations,” Stitt continued. “If a guy got in our face, we’d turn around and walk away, because the team was more important than us and our personal battle. It wasn’t that way Saturday.”
“There isn’t really an excuse for it or a reason,” added wide receiver Keenan Curran. “I mean, if there was a reason, we would have tried to correct that a while ago.
“It’s something that we’ll talk about amongst our teammates, and we’ll get that corrected going into this next game and moving forward.”
Montana came within 8 points of the Lumberjacks before halftime after quarterback Brady Gustafson connected with Curran for an 11-yard touchdown. That would have been a nice momentum boost leading into the second half, however, kicker Tim Semenza missed the extra point, spoiling most of the Grizzlies’ excitement.
“It was a big play by Keenan, and a good check by Brady,” said Stitt, “And it last 30 seconds. It was one weak moment after the next.”
Montana must clear their minds and prepare for themselves for another big opponent this week. The Grizzlies travel to Cheney, Washington to play third-ranked Eastern Washington, a team that will expose any player that leaves the locker room “flat.”