Turnovers prove costly in Homecoming loss
By HEATHER KENNEDY
GREELEY -- Turnovers proved to be the looming statistic for the Northern Colorado football team on Homecoming as the Bears were intercepted four times and lost one fumble, while Montana did not turn over the ball at all, winning 40-17.
The Bears (1-4, 0-2 Big Sky) trailed 10-0 at halftime and both scores were results of Griz interceptions, but got a huge spark when senior Dominic Gunn (Aurora, Colo.) ran the opening kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to three, 10-7 just 14 seconds into the second half.
The return marked the second-straight season Gunn ran the opening kick of the second half back into the endzone against Montana, as he had a 94-yard touchdown in Missoula on Oct. 1, 2011.
The Griz (3-3, 1-2), however rushed for 223 yards in the second half and scored five times for the 40-17 win to snap a two-game losing streak.
"The first thing I want to say is about this game, this season, period, is I'm not going to let this be an offense-defense thing," Head Coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. "Somewhere in there, both sides of the ball are responsible for what's taking place on the scoreboard. It's about making plays on offense and defense and special teams and we didn't that on a consistent basis today and that's why the outcome is what it is."
All three aspects of the game will now focus their attention on Big Sky newcomer Cal Poly as the Bears play in San Luis Obispo next Saturday at 7 pm (Mountain).
Gunn added a 24-yard touchdown catch from junior quarterback Seth Lobato (Eaton, Colo.) with 1:32 on the clock to give him 280 all-purpose yards (98 receiving, 158 kickoff return, 24 punt return). The receiving TD by Gunn was the first of the year not to sophomore Dimitri Stimphil (Homestead, Fla.) for the Bears and give Gunn eight total scores in his career.
Gunn's 158 kickoff return yards are also the second-highest total in school history, just 21 yards shy of the record of 179 by Johnny Watkines against St. Cloud State in 1983. His 98 yard return also ties for the fifth-longest at Northern Colorado and his 280 all-purpose yards rank sixth all-time and second in Division I history.
On defense, senior safety Jordan Bible (Aurora) doubled his career high in tackles, notching 12, while senior linebacker Hervè Tonye-Tonye (Montrèal, Quebec) was in double figures for the first time as a Bear with 10.
The team doubled their season sack total, getting to Montana quarterbacks Trent McKinney and Shay Smithwick-Hann three times for 13 yards lost. Senior Marcus Lucas (Colorado Springs) was in on 1.5 of the sacks, bringing his career total to 3.5.
Lobato completed 25-of-42 passes for 259 yards, the ninth time in his career he's thrown for over 250 yards, but he was sacked four times and intercepted three times. He connected with junior Jace Davis (Lone Tree, Colo.) eight times for 65 yards, while Stimphil had five catches for 38 yards and both Darin McDonald (Greenwood Village, Colo.) and Tromaine Dennis (Jersey City, N.J.) each had two receptions.
Dennis also led the team with 47 rushing yards on 14 carries. Junior Will Jefferson Jr. (Moreno Valley, Calif.) and sophomore James Davis (Miami, Fla.) each added 69 all-purpose yards as Davis saw his first action as a returner when Jefferson left the game due to injury.
Despite several shaky snaps, senior punter Mason Puckett (Mililani, Hawai'i) was able to pin the Griz inside the 20-yard line twice and had two punts go for over 50, including a career-best 64 yarder for an average of 46.1 yards on the day. On his first punt of the second quarter, the snap bounced several times before reaching Puckett and under a lot of pressure, he attempted to throw the ball out of bounds, however it was intercepted by Caleb Walden and returned 18 yards for a touchdown.
For just the second time this season, the Bears had more time of possession than the opponent, holding the ball for 31:58, however Montana had the ball for 10:41 in the fourth quarter, keeping Northern Colorado from a comeback.