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Montana wide receiver James Homan stretches for a pass that's just out of reach against Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, Arizona.

The maroon veins running through the Walkup Skydome bleachers felt it when Montana fell behind 45-20 in the third quarter. Certain sects began thinking it even before halftime when the deficit was only 14 points.

For Griz head coach Bob Stitt, though, the worries were there hours before as his team ran through warm-ups for its Big Sky Conference clash with Northern Arizona.

"We just didn't come out with any type of fire and that's been a problem for a while," Stitt said of Saturday's 45-34 loss, "and it's gonna be a problem until we find a way to get excited about playing football rather than just playing in front of a big (home) crowd.

"... We were in trouble the second we stepped out of the locker room."

The talk in the locker room this week – the one beneath the Adams Center and Washington-Grizzly Stadium rather than its Flagstaff counterpart – is finding a way to avoid a similar road letdown. After failing the NAU test, there's a heck of a midterm staring the Griz down this week in Big Sky pacesetter Eastern Washington.

The Grizzlies' second straight road trip takes them to Cheney, Washington on Saturday with Montana (5-2, 2-2 in Big Sky) in a far less desirable spot in the league race than a week ago. UM, now ranked 16th, is tied for sixth in the standings with four weeks to play, stuck behind three conference unbeatens and a pair of schools that have already knocked off the Griz.

It's a self-dug hole, not unlike the shovelfuls Montana heaped on itself this past Saturday. It started on the first play when NAU quarterback Blake Kemp threw over the top of a cover 4 zone defense – one in which safeties and cornerbacks drop back and split the field into four coverage quadrants – for a 74-yard touchdown.

Even when Montana made a stride in the right direction, something would pull the Griz down again. A personal foul offset a nice punt. A fumble followed a defensive stop. A blown coverage succeeded a nice pass breakup.

"We weren't very mentally strong and it showed in the way we played, but also how we reacted to the adversity," Stitt continued. "... It was continual. That's mental weakness and that was the entire football game. It's a team issue."

And very unlike Montana's play earlier this season, where frustrations dissipated instead of boiling over into foolish penalties. UM had a season-high 12 flags for 107 yards.

"... The team is more important than us and our personal battle and it wasn't that way on Saturday," Stitt said.


The second half of Montana's two-game terror will pose many of the same challenges that the Griz faced last week. Like Northern Arizona, Eastern (6-1, 4-0) features a passing offense ranked in the top 10 in the nation and like the Lumberjacks, the third-ranked Eagles execute at a rate that can leave defenses gassed and maddened.

Discipline is the key, linebacker James Banks said, and that has to start from the opening kickoff.

"Nothing (wrong) scheme-wise here or there. Like coach Stitt said, we just came out flat," Banks said. "Having that big first play (last week) even set us father back and really put us in some adversity. It's really hard to overcome a situation like that."

So how does a team boost its energy to an appropriate level? It shouldn't be hard for a game like Saturday's. Montana and EWU have enjoyed a rivalry that challenges the Grizzlies' duels with the Bobcats in recent years.

The teams have split their last 12 matchups over the past decade, though Eastern has had the lion's share of success in the most recent years. The Griz snapped a four-game losing streak to the Eagles with last season's 57-16 blowout.

Montana has not won in Cheney since the "inferno" red turf went in back in 2010.

The Griz are ready to put last week behind them and move on to this Saturday, even if that means a tough opponent like Eastern. The Eagles, like Weber State at 4-0, are just off the pace of league-leader North Dakota (5-0).

"I'm excited about playing again, to get back on the football field because it's so hard after a disappointing performance," Stitt said. "You've got to wait a whole week to be able to get back out there"

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