Before Montana struggled in the west Texas heat Saturday night, Northern Colorado forged leads of 24-7 and 34-14 over visiting Idaho State that afternoon.
Both the Grizzlies and Idaho State rallied. But while Montana's surge came too late, the Bengals managed to tie UNC with 25 seconds left in regulation, then won in double-overtime, 49-42.
"They made some mistakes and let Idaho State back in the game," Montana coach Bobby Hauck said of the Bears, now 1-2. "They've got to be sick for having let that game go."
That sounds familiar. Sam Houston State was coming off a last-second loss to Southwest Missouri State when it topped the then-No. 1 Grizzlies 41-29 Saturday. Now the Griz, 2-1, are ranked seventh in The Sports Network I-AA poll, and another team stung by a last-second collapse is gearing up for them.
Northern Colorado will face a team that has struggled defensively, highlighted by Saturday's outing in which Montana gave up 512 yards.
The most glaring statistic is that the Grizzlies are ranked 116th in the nation in pass defense. There are 117 teams in Division I-AA, not counting provisional members Northern Colorado and UC-Davis.
But the thing that caught Hauck's eye the most was Sam Houston's 183 yards rushing. The opponents' rushing totals have gone up from week to week.
"You know, again, we didn't stop the run very well last week, either," said the Grizzlies' second-year head coach. "Which has kind of been something we've done. We were highly-ranked last year in the nation (fifth) in rush defense. But now we're not playing the run well enough either."
Northern Colorado has some weapons, although the Bears didn't score a touchdown in their first two games, a 15-13 win over North Dakota State and a 38-0 loss at Maine. Andrew Wilson is rolling up 111.7 rushing yards a game, which would be good for 19th in I-AA; Tony Christensen threw another two interceptions against ISU, but had 245 yards; Jamar Farbes and Akilah Lacey complement Vincent Jackson at receiver.
Jackson, of course, is the 6-foot-6, 235-pound senior NFL prospect. After struggling the first two games, he had eight catches against ISU, giving him 12 for the season.
"He's one of the better wide receiver prospects in the nation," Hauck said. "Definitely one of the best ones in the West. He presents matchup problems for us and darned near everybody they play.
"Jackson is averaging 16 yards a punt return, too, which is scary."
The Grizzlies have a couple more days to regroup. The problems were many last week, and Montana seemed to be waiting for that one big play to right the ship. It didn't happen.
"We dropped balls," Hauck began. "We didn't tackle well, we didn't get off blocks well Š technique hurt us on Saturday, and playmaking hurt us. They made plays and we didn't. It's as simple as that."
After an early Sunday morning flight, the staff was back in their offices by noon that day. Tuesday's practice was upbeat, even if quarterback Craig Ochs, who suffered a calf injury in the fourth quarter at Sam Houston, hadn't yet appeared (Hauck said the senior was day-to-day).
"The positives are this: We played hard for four quarters," Hauck said. "There was never any doubt in our team's mind that we were capable of coming back, up to the end. There was no panic in our sideline. It's just a matter of we need to make plays sooner. By the time we made plays, it was too late."
He was talking about both sides of the ball.
"We need to mature on defense," Hauck said. "And this week would be a good time for that."
NOTES: The Griz rank 50th in the nation in rush defense, averaging 134.3 yards given up per game. That figure still leads the Big Sky Conference. They are 109th overall in total defense, but are fifth in the Big Sky Š Northern Colorado would rank 98th in total defense at 413 yards per game Š Ochs is eighth in the nation in total offense (276 yards per game), and is 23rd in passing efficiency rating (136.4). He's ninth on Montana's career passing list with 2,391 yards. Sitting eighth in Brent Pease with 3,655 (1985-86) Š Jefferson Heidelberger is third in I-AA in receiving yards per game (143.0) and seventh in all-purpose yards per game (188.7) Š Justin Green struggled for yards again Saturday, but is ahead of last year's pace. After three games in '03, he had just 77 yards on 32 carries. He ended up with 1,146. Heading into Saturday's game against UNC he has 119 yards on 37 attempts Š Kicker Dan Carpenter's 5-for-5 performance this season puts him in a tie for sixth nationally in field goals per game Š The Grizzlies' leading tackler, linebacker Shane MacIntyre, ranks 19 th in the Big Sky Conference at 6.7 per game … Sam Houston quarterback Dustin Long was named the I-AA Offensive Player of the Week by The Sports Network for his efforts against Montana (329 yards, two TDs).