Lumberjacks head into Montana with starting quarterback returning
By Brian Gosset
For the past three seasons, the Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Montana games has gone back and forth, usually with it being decided in the fourth quarter. NAU could have won them all, but instead have lost all three by a combined 14 points, including 2009′s overtime thriller 41-34 in the Walkup Skydome. Some people have said this is rivalry game, yet, it has been one-sided for the past 14 years.
The Lumberjacks aim to get head coach Jerome Souers his first win against Montana in his 15 years as head coach when they take on the 14th-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) on Saturday in Missoula.
NAU (2-1) is coming off a 69-0 blowout win over Division II school Fort Lewis College in their home opener. The momentum is riding high in Flagstaff as NAU racked up 557 total yards on offense while holding Fort Lewis to just 122. Running back Zach Bauman only had 5 carries, but ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns, including a 75-yard score on the very first play from scrimmage.
The opening half seemed flawless for NAU, with the only exception coming seconds before halftime when starting quarterback Chase Cartwright left the game with an apparent leg injury.
Luckily for the Lumberjacks, senior quarterback Cary Grossart, who is the returning starter, is set to return to the starting lineup. Grossart was injured during the first half of the Arizona State game and hasn’t played since.
“I feel 100 percent, and you got to feel that way in a game like this,” Grossart said about the injury. “I feel great, and the doctors rested me last week, which was the right thing to do.”
In his one and only game against the Grizzlies, coming this past year, Grossart threw for 321 yards on 19-for-27 passing and two touchdowns, one of which was a 77-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage to wideout Khalil Paden.
Souers has liked what Grossart was showing in practice as he was trying to get back in a groove.
“It’s the first time we had the starting lineup since the first part of Spring,” Souers said.
As for Montana (2-1), nothing has changed over the last two decades, as it continues to be a contender; not only in the Big Sky, but the entire FCS. Since 1993, the Grizzlies have been Big Sky champs or co-champs 16 times, including this past year and 12 straight from 1998-2009. Montana rebounded nicely after losing to Appalachian State two weeks ago to defeat Liberty 34-14 last Saturday in Missoula.
Redshirt freshman Trent McKinnery threw for 95 yards, ran for another 28 and scored twice. The Mililani, Hawaii native has had a decent start to his first season as starting quarterback, throwing for 616 yards with six touchdowns to four interceptions, while also running for 150 yards for another two scores.
Montana leads the all-time series 32-12 with NAU’s last win coming in 1997. The Grizzlies have also won 23 of the last 24 meetings. This past year in Flagstaff, NAU found themselves with a 24-21 lead after Matt Myers’ 40-yard field goal with 4:45 left in the game. Halfback Peter Nguyen returned the ensuing kickoff 49 yards to set up Montana with a one play, 46-yard touchdown run from Jordan Canada to take the lead for good. Bauman finished with 148 yards on 25 carries, including a 37-yard score early in the first to give the Lumberjacks a 14-0 lead.
“It’s the first Big Sky game, and it’s not only to get a good start in the conference, but against Montana, who is 39-1 at home since 2007, for us to come in there and get a win would be awesome,” Grossart said on the importance of the game.
“It’s the first conference game and it’s important for everybody,” Souers said. “We have a lot to prepare for, and Montana’s offense is a handful.”
For NAU to win this game for the program, school, and community, Souers put it simply, “It’ll be big.”