MISSOULA, Mont. — Jerome Souers waited 15 years to beat Montana. On Saturday, the wait ended as Souers’ Northern Arizona team rode a sparkling second-half comeback to down the Grizzlies 41-31.
“We finished the game strong,” said Souers, who was 0-14 against Montana since leaving Montana in 1997 to take over as Northern Arizona’s head coach. “That’s something we haven’t been able to do in the past.”
Zach Bauman rushed for 253 yards and three touchdowns and the Northern Arizona defense came up with five turnovers Saturday to lead the Lumberjacks to victory and spoil Montana’s Homecoming festivities.
The Lumberjacks (3-1, 1-0 Big Sky) overcame a 17-point first-half deficit to get the win.
“This is a stepping stone for us that has been in our way for many years,” Souers said.
Bauman opened the game with a bang, taking the ball on the first play from scrimmage 75 yards for a touchdown.
“I honestly don’t think I got touched,” Bauman said. “That’s all because of my offensive line.”
The rest of the half belonged to Montana (2-2, 0-1) as the Grizzlies scored 24 straight points on two touchdown runs by Dan Moore, a 31-yard scoring jaunt by Trent McKinney and a 27-yard Chris Lider field goal.
The Lumberjacks cut the Montana lead to 24-14 with 9:15 left in the first half on a 3-yard run by Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson.
But the second half was a different story as Northern Arizona ran off 27 straight points to take a 41-24 lead in the fourth quarter. Bauman scoring runs of 20 and 2 yards, R.J. Rickert’s 2-yard TD reception from Cary Grossart and two Andy Wilder field goals proved to be the difference for the Lumberjacks.
“We started out well, but the turnover bug hit us again,” said Montana coach Mick Delaney. “You can’t do that against a team like Northern Arizona. They’ve got probably the best back in the country.”
McKinney threw three interceptions in the game and the Grizzlies lost two fumbles.
Montana backup quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hahn hit Ellis Henderson with a 45-touchdown pass with 1:58 left in the game to close out the scoring.
An onside-kick attempt by Montana failed and the Lumberjacks ran out the clock.
“We wanted it real bad as a squad,” Bauman said. “We knew it had been 14 years for coach.”
Grossart finished the day by completing 16-of-23 passes for 138 yards. McKinney completed 24-of-34 passes for 199 yards. Moore led the Grizzlies in rushing with 74 yards on 12 carries.