The Montana football team faces a tough road test against Northern Arizona Saturday, a week after the Griz offense finally clicked for a full game.
No. 3 Montana (7-0, 4-0 Big Sky) takes on NAU (5-3, 4-1) in a battle of the top two teams in the league standings. The game kicks off at 4 p.m. Mountain at NAU’s Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz., and will be televised by Montana Television Network stations.
The Grizzlies are coming off a 52-7 win over Northern Colorado in which they rolled up 623 yards in total offense and Cole Bergquist passed for four touchdowns. Montana had fallen from its No. 1 ranking after three less-than-convincing wins over league opponents.
Bergquist, who is averaging 192 yards passing, said the offense could sit and talk potential all day, “but until you really, actually do it in a game, you don’t really know.”
Griz coach Bobby Hauck, who told his team to have fun against UNC, is concerned about Northern Arizona’s speed and talent.
“They’ve got good players at running back, but they also have a good runner at quarterback,” Hauck said. “When they have the talent they do at wide receiver, you kind of have to pick your poison on certain downs and distances.”
Quarterback Lance Kriesien averages 170 yards passing with eight touchdowns and 65 yards rushing with another five touchdowns. Lionel Scott averages 87 yards rushing and has eight touchdowns and Alex Watson averages 51 yards receiving and has four touchdown catches.
Cornerback J.C. Gerard has six of NAU’s league-leading 16 interceptions.
“NAU’s done a tremendous job of taking the ball away from people,” Hauck said. “It’s been really impressive to watch. The corners have a good nose for the ball.”
Northern Arizona has losses to Arizona and defending FCS champion Appalachian State.
“Our guys have seen some different competition and diverse style of play,” coach Jerome Souers said. “We’re a little more battle tested than we have been in years past.”
Souers said the Montana game is going to be a challenge for the Lumberjacks, who haven’t beaten the Grizzlies in a decade.
“I think Montana is playing extremely well and is deserving of their ranking,” Souers said. “Judging by some of the teams we have seen, they are by far the best opponent on our schedule.”
Lex Hilliard is averaging 81 yards rushing and has 10 touchdowns this season, but had struggled for a couple of games before rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns against Northern Colorado.
Hauck said Hilliard isn’t affected by the ruptured Achilles tendon that cost him the 2006 season.
“He’s been banged up in other ways, but it’s not his Achilles,” Hauck said. “He’s playing well. It’s a long season. We never anticipated giving him a lot of carries, certainly no more than 20. As we move toward November, he’ll get more playing time.”
Bergquist has thrown 11 TD passes and Mike Ferriter and Ryan Bagley are averaging 50 yards receiving each. Bagley has five TD catches.
Souers says the Grizzlies’ defense appears to have improved.
“Nothing’s coming easy against their defense,” he said. “They don’t make a lot of mistakes. That makes it tough on an offense that’s opportunistic, one that is waiting for a breakdown. Offensively, they’ve been as good as they’ve needed to be to score points and win games.”
Kroy Biermann has 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and a blocked kick for the Griz this season.
Montana State University vs. Northern Colorado
Jack Rolovich returns as starting quarterback in Montana State’s game at Northern Colorado on Saturday after missing last weekend’s game with a separated left shoulder.
“It’s a classic situation where Jack was our guy,” said coach Rob Ash. “Cory (Carpenter) played extremely well, but Jack was the guy we originally picked. We just put the guy back in there once he got healthy from his injury.”
Rolovich averages 206 yards passing and has seven touchdown passes this season.
No. 19 Montana State (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) is looking to extend Northern Colorado’s losing streak to 17 games dating back to last season while the Bears (0-8, 0-4) are still seeking their first league win after joining the Big Sky last season.
The game kicks off at noon Mountain in Greeley, Colo. and will be televised by Max Media stations in Montana.
Ash said he’ll also start leading rusher Demetrius Crawford for the first time this season, and split playing time more evenly between Crawford and Aaron Mason. Crawford, who averages 85 yards rushing, was in for 55 plays against Sacramento State.
“We can’t continue with that,” Ash said. “Demetrius is not a durable enough back to play that many plays. I think the combination of keeping them both fresh is still the best way to go.”
Both have three rushing touchdowns this season.
Ash said Eric Fisher has won his kicking job back. He made two field goals against Sacramento State after Michael Sweeney missed two. Fisher started in the season-opener against Texas A&M, but lost the job after missing three field goals in that game.
The Bobcats have struggled offensively since scoring 26 points in the second half of its 40-20 win over Idaho State. MSU didn’t score in its 20-9 win over Sacramento State until the final minute of the third quarter — and that was a field goal by Fisher.
“We have to get the ball into the end zone,” Ash said. “One of these days, I promise you, we’re going to break out and I hope it’s pretty soon.”
The closest Northern Colorado has come to winning a league game was a 13-10 loss at Montana State last season.
“We are very respectful of what they accomplished last year,” Ash said. “We don’t care what their record is.”
UNC coach Scott Downing said his team is about five to seven plays per game away from being competitive on a more consistent basis.
“What we’d really like to be able to do in any game is we’d like to have our offense stay on the field longer, finish drives, put points on the board,” Downing said. “If our offense … can sustain our drives and keep (MSU) off the field, they don’t get a chance to get in a rhythm against our defense.”
Dominic Breazeale averages 73 yards passing per game, Ryan Chesla averages 41 yards receiving and has four touchdown catches. David Woods averages 67 yards rushing and has four scores.
Northern Colorado is ranked 110th or lower out of 116 FCS teams in total offense, total defense, scoring defense, pass defense, sacks and tackles for loss. They’re last in points allowed (41.7) and yards allowed (528).
Downing said building a program is a process, and a single win isn’t going to change everything.
“Certainly it would make the mood around here a little bit happier,” he said. “But we’re not going to win one game and all of a sudden be a totally different program.”
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