(Montana Sports Information) The Montana Grizzlies struggled to find offensive rhythm and were gashed by big plays defensively in a 28-14 loss at Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.

The loss was the first for head coach Bobby Hauck against the Lumberjacks in his career at UM and was the first for the Griz since 2016.

Montana saw its three-game win streak snapped in the conference opener to fall to 3-1, while NAU snapped a streak of its own, entering the game on a three-game slide to improve to 1-3.  

Quarterback Sam Vidlak found himself under pressure all day in Flagstaff, completing 23 of his 37 passes for 210 yards in the air with one interception. The sophomore quarterback was also sacked five times, most of which were for a big loss, adding up to 33 total lost yards.

Vidlak was also strip-sacked for a fumble in the first half as the Lumberjacks capitalized off of UM’s two turnovers with a touchdown from each.

Montana’s rushing attack also failed to keep the chains moving with just 31 yards on the ground, the second straight game UM has tallied less than 100 yards on the ground.

The Grizzly defense came up with some big plays in big moments, with Braxton Hill and Trevin Gradney each picking off passes. Gradney’s pick, his fourth in as many games, resulted in a touchdown shortly after for the Griz, but it wasn’t enough as UM struggled with a varied offensive attack from NAU.

“First thing I'd say is we had a good week of preparation and that our guys were focused, we just didn’t perform well enough on defense, offense, and didn't perform well enough special teams to win. That falls on the coaches, and I’ve got to figure that out,” said head coach Bobby Hauck.

“Credit to NAU, they threw everything but the kitchen sink at us, and they had some good stuff early that put us behind two touchdowns. That will happen sometimes, and you’ve got to hold the rope until you get it right. But we just didn't. We didn't score enough to get back in at that point.”

NAU’s Adam Damante, a true freshman QB from Gilbert, Arizona, got his first start for the Lumberjacks and put the home team up early with some crisp passing.

Montana got its first offensive opportunity of the game when Braxton Hill intercepted a tipped Damante pass deep in UM territory. The Griz squandered the chance, however, with a slew of penalties keeping them from putting a drive together.

UM’s problems compounded when Travis Benham’s punt was blocked, setting NAU up at the Grizzly 24-yard line.

One play later NAU capitalized on Montana’s offensive miscues when Demante found Hendrix Johnson wide open down the right sideline for a 24-yard strike to put the Jacks up 7-0 after eight minutes.

On the ensuing Grizzly drive, Vidlak completed a 23-yard pass across the middle to Keelan White, but the Montana offense stalled again and as forced to punt for the second-straight possession.