FLAGSTAFF, ARIZ. — Saturday’s game between Montana and Northern Arizona had all of the makings of a trap football game.
The Grizzlies were on the road for the second straight week in their longest road trips of the season so far, they were playing at elevation (almost 7,000 feet compared to 3,200 in Missoula) and of course, next Saturday, Nov. 20 is the Brawl of the Wild. But the Grizzlies blocked all of those distractions out en route to defeating NAU and can now reset their focus to Montana State.
What it comes to blocking distractions out and focusing one week at a time, Griz coach Bobby Hauck said his team has the key ingredient.
"Well you have one game a week, you better focus in on that," Hauck said. "It’s simple. I don’t think that’s difficult. All that is is discipline. I think we have it."
The Grizzlies took care of NAU, 30-3, on Saturday thanks to defensive touchdowns from Patrick O'Connell and Garrett Graves while kicker Kevin Macias also had a 3 for 3 day on field goals. Isiah Childs scored Montana's lone touchdown on offense.
The Griz defense racked up five sacks, 13 tackles for loss, forced four turnovers and held NAU to under 200 yards of offense on the day while making it 10 full quarters in a row now that Montana's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown. The last time the Griz defense allowed a touchdown was with 2:59 left in the second quarter against Southern Utah on Oct. 30. Montana held NAU to 4 for 19 on third downs as well.
Winning Saturday's turnover battle so convincingly also completed a weekly goal for the Grizzlies.
"(Turnovers are) a point of emphasis on both sides of the ball for us and it’s a team game," Hauck said. "We’d like to be, and this isn’t unique to us, plus-three in the turnover battle in any given game that’s our goal. We don’t always reach it but yeah guys are coming up with the ball."
The win improved Montana to 8-2 on the season and with a No. 9 ranking that could rise again, but linebacker Jace Lewis, who had two sacks on the day, said this week's preparation was exactly what the Grizzlies needed to avoid looking ahead to Montana State to avoid falling into that trap.
"I think coach Hauck and the rest of the coaches did a great job this week getting us laser focused for this game and canceling out all of next week," Lewis said. "I think this week of preparation was probably one of the better ones we’ve had this year so that was cool to see too."
The 120th Brawl of the Wild will get underway in Missoula on Saturday with kickoff scheduled for noon at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Of note, after a big push from Montana fans over the last two weeks, ESPN's College GameDay will instead be heading to Columbus, Ohio, for Michigan State and Ohio State instead of attending the Cat-Griz game.