FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — An ominous start for Montana proved to be prophetic in a 28-14 upset loss on the road to Big Sky Conference opponent Northern Arizona on Saturday at the Walkup Skydome.
Montana’s offense managed just 12 total first downs and quarterback Sam Vidlak was sacked five times and the Grizzlies lost for the first time this season. UM is now 3-1 overall and 0-1 in the Big Sky.
“First thing I'd say is we had a good week of preparation and that our guys were focused, we just didn’t perform well enough on defense, offense, and didn't perform well enough on special teams to win. That falls on the coaches, and I’ve got to figure that out,” Griz coach Bobby Hauck said.
“Credit to NAU, they threw everything but the kitchen sink at us, and they had some good stuff early that put us behind two touchdowns. That will happen sometimes, and you’ve got to hold the rope until you get it right. But we just didn't. We didn't score enough to get back in at that point.”
On Montana’s opening possession, NAU’s Dustin Reynolds blocked a Travis Benham punt to put the Lumberjacks in prime position. On the next play, freshman QB Adam Demante found a wide-open Hendrix Johnson with a 24-yard touchdown pass and a 7-0 lead.
NAU later took a 14-0 advantage on Devon Starling’s 2-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down play in the second quarter.
The Grizzlies got within 14-6 on a 4-yard TD reception from Vidlak to Aaron Fontes, and a 24-yard touchdown by Xavier Harris made the score 21-14 in favor of NAU before halftime, but a 3-yard TD run by the Lumberjacks’ Keyonta Lanier in the third quarter represented the only points by either team in the second half.
The game was delayed with 7:44 left in the second quarter when a member of the chain gang was bowled over on a short pass to NAU tight end Bryzai White along the boundary. The injured man was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher.
Turning point: Midway through the second quarter, NAU edge rusher Eloi Kwete forced a fumble on Vidlak as the QB was winding up to throw and the Lumberjacks recovered.
NAU ran a double pass on the next play, and Chase Belcher found Marcus Phillips Jr. behind the defense for a 48-yard touchdown and a 21-6 lead with 5:02 left before halftime.
Kwete later stuffed Montana’s Xavier Harris on a key fourth-and-1 play with 6:09 left to stop another Griz drive. Kwete finished with two QB sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Stat of the game: Northern Arizona won the time-of-possession battle, keeping the ball for 35:27 compared to 24:33 for the Grizzlies. Montana ran just eight plays in the first quarter and had just 31 total rushing yards for the game.
Grizzly game balls: CB Trevin Gradney (Defense). On a day that produced few superlatives, Gradney’s interception gave UM first and goal at the NAU 4 with 9:04 left in the second quarter. That led to Fontes’ short TD catch, and was Gradney’s fourth interception in as many games. Gradney also deflected a pass that was intercepted by Braxton Hill in the first quarter.
What’s next: It’s homecoming week in Missoula next Saturday as Montana hosts Idaho State at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, and the Grizzlies will be eager to get back into the win column.
The Grizzlies are 48-14 all-time against Idaho State, including a 32-2 record at home. Montana has beaten the Bengals in 14 consecutive matchups.