MISSOULA, Mont. - The Montana Grizzlies defeated No. 18 Northern Arizona 17-15, while holding off a late rally in Missoula.
Both teams played the majority of this game without their starting quarterbacks. Montana's Gresch Jensen was ruled out before the game with a concussion, and Northern Arizona's Case Cookus was ejected for targeting while blocking on a reverse play midway through the first quarter.
Caleb Hill got the start at quarterback for the Grizzlies, but he was pulled after being dropped for a rushing loss, and then sacked, on Montana’s first drive.
Makena Simis, who moved from quarterback to H-back in 2016, was then called upon to play behind center.
The redshirt senior threw for 44 yards and an interception on 6-of-15 passing, but he led UM with 101 rushing yards on 19 attempts.
True freshman Stone Smartt came in for Cookus after he was ejected. He finished 12-of-25 for 99 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Redshirt senior linebacker Connor Strahm finished with a game-high 15 total tackles for the Griz, including six solo stops and 2.5 tackles for loss with a sack.
NAU put the game's first points on the board with a 30-yard field goal by Griffin Roehler with 4:51 to go in the first quarter.
Montana's points came from a 48-yard punt return touchdown from Jerry Louie-McGee with 1:28 left in the first.
The Lumberjacks took the lead with 7:35 remaining in the second quarter. Smartt connected with Nate Stinson for a touchdown, but Jesse Sims blocked the extra point to keep the Griz deficit at two points.
The Grizzlies then drove into the red zone late in the first half, but Damahny Whittle forced a Jeremy Calhoun fumble at the Northern Arizona 8-yard line. Chauntez Thomas then recovered the ball for the Lumberjacks.
Wide receiver Keenan Curran played some defense as time expired in the half, and he was able to intercept a last-second Hail Mary at the UM 4-yard line.
The Griz defense then came up with a big play with less than six minutes remaining in the third quarter. James Banks forced Cory Young to fumble, and Josh Sandry recovered at the NAU 36-yard line.
Simis then connected with Justin Calhoun for 33 yards, and Alijah Lee found the end zone just two plays later with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Northern Arizona then drove all the way to the Montana 26-yard line, but Tucker Schye sacked Smartt on 4th-and-12 for a turnover on downs.
With around 10 minutes remaining in the game, Simis was stopped a yard short on a 4th-and-2 from the NAU 35-yard line. The Grizzlies defense rallied and forced the Lumberjacks to go three-and-out.
Brandon Purdy then kicked a 34-yard field goal to put Montana up 17-9 with 4:21 to play.
Northern Arizona then drove 55 yards in 11 plays, as Smartt scored a 2-yard rushing touchdown with 50 seconds remaining.
But on the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Smartt threw it behind a wide-open Wallace Gonzalez in the back of the end zone.
Louie-McGee then recovered an onside kick to end the Lumberjacks’ comeback hopes.
The Grizzlies improve to 6-3 on the season, and 4-2 in Big Sky Conference play. They will host Northern Colorado next week in the regular season home finale.