Lumberjacks need win to keep title hopes alive

Updated: October 31, 2003, 3:10 PM ET

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Northern Arizona's 21-17 loss at Montana State last week has become a distant memory, and fast. The Lumberjacks have to refocus with Montana, traditionally their toughest opponent, on the horizon.

"I'm sure it will be a little more intense and we'll have a little more edge this week," coach Jerome Souers said. "Everybody in our locker room expects different things out of our team this Saturday."

Montana (6-2, 2-1 Big Sky) has won 14 of the last 15 meetings with NAU, and Souers, Montana's former defensive coordinator, is 0-5 against them since taking over the Lumberjacks program in 1998.

But Souers doesn't buy into the notion that beating the Grizzlies is a psychological hurdle.

"Montana doesn't have voodoo or magic," Souers said. "They have good football. And good football tradition is based on good players, good coaching and consistent execution of their scheme."

NAU (6-2, 4-1) still more or less controls its destiny in the race for the conference title.

The Lumberjacks host Montana and Idaho State on consecutive weekends. Two wins, coupled with one loss by Montana State in its final four conference games, would give NAU the championship.

But the loss in Bozeman, Mont., complicated things.

The Lumberjacks led 17-7 before MSU rallied for two touchdowns in the final 1:07 to steal the victory, handing NAU its first loss in six games. It was a blow Souers expects his squad to absorb.

"This particular football team is resilient and mature," Souers said. "The fact that last Saturday went the way it did is difficult to swallow. It would be for anybody. But I think it just fuels our resolve to improve this Saturday."

Montana's two losses were close ones -- to Idaho State by three points in double overtime and, almost inexplicably, by one point at home to Division II North Dakota State.

The Grizzlies have begun to find an offensive rhythm. They beat Portland State 42-14 in Missoula last week thanks to a solid game from quarterback Craig Ochs, who threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Ochs, a transfer from Colorado last year, finally beat out Jeff Disney for the starting job several weeks into this season. His numbers have been more steady than gaudy (60.2 completions, 838 yards, 6 TDs, 3 interceptions).

Ochs has a big-play threat in Jon Talmage, who is averaging 24.3 yards on his 18 catches.

The Lumberjacks piled up 480 yards against MSU, including a 165-yard rushing game from Roger Robinson, but struggled to score. Four times in the second half, NAU had a drive or 10 plays or longer, and managed just three points total.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index