Griz Axe Jacks With Dominant Defense

Photo courtesy of Grizzly Athletics

Every time you think Montana’s defense has put together its best performance of the season, they find a new way to step their game up. The Grizzlies put forth another massive effort in what has been an incredible season in a dominant 30-3 victory over Northern Arizona, allowing just 154 yards to the Lumberjacks while turning them over four times.

As a matter of fact, the final score was Montana’s offense 16, Montana’s defense 14 and Northern Arizona just three points.

“(Our defense) did a really great job today,” Head Coach Bobby Hauck said. “It’s comforting to sit over here and be the head coach and know the other side can’t move the ball. That was just a great job by our defense and by our team coming here and playing at 7,000 feet. That was a good win by us.”

Patrick O’Connell and Garret Graves both scored defensive touchdowns, one a fumble recovery and the other an interception return. Justin Ford also added his nation-high eighth interception, marking eight straight games that he has picked off the opposing quarterback.

The Grizzlies now have four defensive touchdowns this season (three interception returns, one fumble return), making them one of just six teams in the country to reach that mark.

Montana allowed under 200 yards to its opponent for the second time this season and extended its shutout streak well over seven full quarters as it backed up last week’s shutout with another stellar defensive performance. They have now gone 10 quarters without giving up a touchdown to their opponent.

The Grizzlies’ first win in Flagstaff in 10 years improved them to 8-2 (5-2 BSC) and they set up a massive top-10 showdown with Montana State next weekend inside of Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

Northern Arizona entered the day with running back Kevin Daniels second in the Big Sky Conference averaging over 100 yards per game. He averaged over six yards per carry, but the defensive front of Montana didn’t allow any momentum all day long. Daniels was held to just 42 yards on 2.6 yards per carry.

“We were playing hard and tackling well to start with, which is the given – I hope – week in and week out for us,” Hauck said. “We were fast off the ball, guys were getting there and seeing their keys well both up front and in the back end. We got cut out on a couple in the first half but after that there was nothing there.”

Robby Hauck lived in the backfield, forcing the fumble on O’Connell’s defensive touchdown and finishing with a season-high 14 tackles. Jace Lewis put in a great shift as well, recording 10 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss.

“Obviously the big play by Robby (Hauck) on the sack that caused the fumble that (O’Connell) scooped and scored, that was a huge play for us,” Bobby Hauck said. “Jace (Lewis) was all over the place today as well, I was really impressed by that performance.”

The Grizzly front finished with five sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a unit with Lewis, Alex GubnerBraxton Hill and O’Connell all finishing with more than a tackle for loss each. And if not for a muffed punt that led to a three-and-out field goal, the Grizzlies would have shut out their opponent for the second straight week, a nearly impossible task in modern college football.

Northern Arizona never entered the red zone against the Grizzlies and converted just 4-of-19 third downs. The Lumberjacks picked up a large chunk of their yards on a fake punt, as the offense managed just 129 yards outside of that play.

All told, the Grizzlies outgained the Lumberjacks 427-154 and picked up 13 more first downs than their opponents. The Grizzlies primarily used the passing attack offensively, as Cam Humphrey threw for 280 yards while completing 57 percent of his passes.

Cole Grossman had the big day receiving, catching three passes for 93 yards. Samuel Akem caught a game-high six passes for 51 yards, Mitch Roberts added five for 57 and Ryan Simpson had a career-high 66 yards.

Xavier Harris paced the young Grizzly backfield with 70 yards rushing on nearly four yards per carry. Isiah Childs scored his third touchdown of the season, the lone score of the day for Montana’s offense. The Grizzlies were forced to kick three field goals, including a 49-yarder from Kevin Macias following a long Grizzly drive to end the half.

“We moved the ball well, but didn’t score well. I was really excited with the 30 second drive for the field goal at the end of the first half, I thought that was big time,” Hauck said.

A defensive battle in the first quarter saw both offenses struggle, and was capped off by a play that summarized the first 15 minutes – and the entire day for NAU’s offense – well. Lewis broke through the line on third-and-long untouched, getting to the Lumberjacks quarterback. It was the second Grizzly sack and third tackle for loss in an opening quarter that saw the teams combine for under 100 total yards.

Montana then picked up their largest gain of the day after getting the ball back, a long back shoulder pass from Humphrey to Roberts. The air attack delivered again a few plays later as Cole Grossman found empty space in the middle of the field and rumbled inside the red zone on a 44-yard gain.

Isiah Childs put the first points of the day on the board, bouncing a run that looked initially to be stopped outside and diving through a tackle at the pylon. The eight-yard score capped off a five play drive that lasted under two minutes for the Grizzlies.

Humphrey made some nice adjustments in the pocket on the following drive, including a third down conversion that saw him escape a sack and flip a pass to Harris for a first down. Harris then carried it himself on a 11-yard gain to move the Griz into the red zone yet again, where the Grizzlies settled for a field goal to increase the lead to 10.

The Grizzly defense provided another stop to give UM one final chance with just over 30 seconds remaining. Humphrey dialed up some quick passes to get the Grizzlies into field goal range. Macias knocked through his second field goal of the half with no time on the clock from 49 yards out, giving the Grizzlies a 13-0 halftime lead.

Macias would end the day a perfect 3-for-3 kicking to run his streak up to nine consecutive makes.

“Like I keep saying, Kevin is good,” Hauck said. “Altitude and (playing in a) dome do play a role in that. It would have been on the edge of his range at home, but up here he banged it through. He made the practice one too when they called timeout.”

Montana’s shutout streak, which had lasted more than six full quarters of football, came to an end after a muffed punt gifted the ball to NAU deep in Montana territory. The Griz defense didn’t allow a first down, but a field goal would cut the lead to 13-3 early in the third quarter.

On Montana’s next drive, Humphrey was picked off deep in NAU territory, and Devontae Ingram returned it 56 yards to set the Lumberjacks up just outside of the red zone.

The defense rose to the occasion. Northern Arizona looked to the end zone, but Corbin Walker jumped a route and intercepted the ball for a Grizzly touchback that kept the Lumberjacks off the board.

As the offense continued to struggle a bit, Montana was able to pin NAU deep in their own territory with another good punt from Brian Buschini. The Griz defense then brought the pressure, as Robby Hauck blitzed untouched into the backfield and crushed quarterback Cale Millen. The ball popped out and into the hands of Patrick O’Connell, who waltzed into the end zone for the defensive score. It was the third defensive touchdown of the season for the Grizzlies.

Montana held Northern Arizona under 100 total yards entering the fourth quarter, but a fake punt early led to a 25-yard gain for the Lumberjacks to move them into Montana territory. The defense would hold, stopping Northern Arizona on fourth down a few plays later to give the ball back to Humphrey and Co.

He connected with Grossman on back-to-back plays, totaling nearly 50 yards between them to put Montana just outside the red zone. It eventually led to a short Macias field goal, giving Montana a 23-3 lead with just nine minutes remaining.

The Lumberjacks took to the air in an attempt to climb back into the game, but it’s dangerous to throw against the Grizzly defense, particularly Justin Ford. They challenged the quarterback, who intercepted his eighth pass in as many games to extend his national lead.

The Grizzlies moved it into the red zone but came up short on a fourth down from inside the five.

Northern Arizona, passing from its own end zone, once again was on the receiving end of a highlight reel play from the Montana defense. A pass over the middle was intercepted by Garret Graves, who rambled his way into the end zone from 25 yards out for the second defensive touchdown of the day to deliver the final score line of 30-3.

“You score a couple times on defense and give up 150 yards and it’s going to be a good day for the Griz,” Hauck said.

The dominant performance runs Montana’s winning streak up to four games, as the Griz have now outscored their previous four opponents 119-36. It also sets up what will be a top-10 showdown inside of Washington-Grizzly Stadium next week for the 120th Brawl of the Wild.

“We’re always excited for that game. Certainly, we are well aware of who we play next week and we need to have a great week of preparation,” Hauck said. “We need to cut out distractions and get ourselves ready to go play our best game.”