The Griz Are Still on Track


In heading to Missoula Saturday, Northern Arizona is facing its second top 10 team in as many weeks.

This time, it’s not inside the Walkup Skydome, which is good news for the Montana Grizzlies who have held serve against the Lumberjacks in Missoula every year since 1987.

But then again, Montana has had their way with NAU home and away. The Griz have won 12 in a row – the length of former Griz coach Jerome Souers’ tenure – and 21 of the last 22, with the last Lumberjack victory a 27-24 squeaker in Flagstaff in 1997.

You had better believe there is plenty of incentive this Saturday in addition to the fact that the game is a battle for the league lead. Northern Arizona has won just four of 22 games in Missoula and their coaching staff now includes ex-Griz assistant coaches David Reeves, Bill Smith, and Andy Thompson, in addition to head coach Souers.

After opening with a 48-0 steamroll over Western New Mexico, the Lumberjacks boast road wins at Idaho State (32-7) and Southern Utah (26-23), and a loss at Cheney (21-14) before dominating Montana State last weekend (34-7).

Quarterback Michael Herrick is at the helm and last week’s Big Sky Conference offensive Player of the Week hit his stride against the Cats to move NAU up to 24th in the national rankings.

He throws at a 63 percent clip and the Jacks are a pass-happy offense, averaging 263 yards per game through the airways.

Wide-out Austin Shanks leads the league in receptions per game at better than six and stands 10th in the nation while hauling in 40 balls good for 392 yards.

But defense also is key to a Montana victory since the Lumberjacks allow but 16.5 points per game, less than 70 yards on the ground and 190 through the air. The Grizzlies have to move the ball.

NAU is little penalized (57.8), are plus-five in turnover margin, and have one of the finest of the leagues punters in Drew Zamora. They have failed to score at least a field goal only four of 25 times in the red zone.

Make no mistake, this is a banged-up Montana team. Defensive end Severin Campbell probably is done for the season and receiver Jabin Sambrano is unlikely to play this week. Defensive tackle Tyrone Duncan also is weeks away, while Tyler Hobbs is edging closer to full strength.

To hang on to a share of the league lead with a single league loss will require numbers of other players to contribute in big ways for the Grizzlies. They must minimize a range of errors that has slowed down, but surely not sidelined, the season’s success.

Winners of four straight, the train is chugging up the hill. While it’s a long ways from full speed, the Grizzlies still share a part of the league lead, stand seventh in the nation, and have a season of goals within reach.

Back to Mick it Missoula Blog home page.