By AUSTIN SMITH
Despite a high-scoring first half, the Grizzlies’ Homecoming and 2012 Big Sky Conference opener was spoiled to the tune of a 41-31 loss at the hands of the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks.
NAU’s standout running back Zach Bauman scored a touchdown on the initial Lumberjack play following kickoff, the first of his three trips to the endzone and a hefty kickstart to his career-high 253-yard rushing tally.
The Griz were able to rally after a beautiful keeper from McKinney and a brutally powerful run by Dan Moore; the hit he laid on NAU’s Lucy Dozier was not only bone crunching but could be heard from space.
Despite their efforts problems arose for the Grizzlies as the second quarter wound down. NAU scored with ten minutes left to make it 24-14, and on the ensuing drive Dan Moore lost his grip for a rare but crucial fumble.
Bienemann and his heavy hitters were able to keep the Jacks at bay until halftime, but the Griz offense started the third quarter with another turnover, a trend that would continue to the final whistle.
NAU capitalized on McKinney’s mistakes from halftime onward, making it so rough for the young quarterback that Shay Smithwick-Hann replaced him mid-way through the fourth quarter. Smithwick-Hann actually threw a classy touchdown pass to wide receiver Ellis Henderson, but it was too little too late in the face of Bauman’s wheels of steel.
Saturday’s loss brings the 2012 Grizzlies to 2-2, 0-1 in conference play. They will be at Eastern Washington State University next weekend, September 29; they will not play another home game until the October 13 matchup against Southern Utah.
Austin Smith is a 21-year resident of the Missoula area, and an ardent fisherman, hunter, and snowboarder. When not working on the University of Montana campus, taking classes in the Journalism program, or contributing to the social media efforts of several local organizations, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his Akita and his family.