Published: Monday, October 8, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 8, 2012 01:10
Colleen Allison / The Mirror
UNC junior running back Tromaine Dennis runs through the offensive and defensive lines on a carry during Saturday's game against Montana.
A 98-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter Saturday could have been the catalyst for the UNC football team against Montana, and in a sense it was.
The problem arose when it also sparked a Grizzlies offensive explosion to keep the game out of reach in what eventually became a 40-17 rout at Nottingham Field.
After trailing by only 10 at halftime, University of Northern Colorado senior wide receiver Dominic Gunn danced and twisted his way through a cloud of defenders for a touchdown to open the second half, making it a 10-7 game.
It was Montana oddly electing to kick off at the start of both halves that gave Gunn a chance to get the Bears going.
“When we were coming out, we heard that they had deferred, so we were getting it again,” Gunn said. “That’s an opportunity right there, and I had to capitalize on it.”
The emotion of the play was visible on both sidelines, but it was the Grizzlies (3-3, 1-2 Big Sky Conference) that utilized that emotion to their advantage.
Montana answered two drives later with a rushing touchdown, then UNC responded with a 24-yard field goal to make the score 17-10. From then on, Montana controlled the game, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal to go ahead 40-10.
UNC’s offense remained idle until Gunn caught a 24-yard pass from junior quarterback Seth Lobato with less than two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The score was a bright spot for a UNC (1-4, 0-2) offense that was plagued by miscues the entire game.
The Bears had two first-half drives stall because of Lobato interceptions in the end zone. In between those, though, was a low snap to senior punter Mason Puckett, who threw a desperate pass downfield to avoid a loss of yards. The pass was intercepted and returned 18 yards for Montana’s first score.
The score might have remained 7-0 until halftime but Montana intercepted Lobato a third time rightbefore the second quarter ended, setting up a 34-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
“We were moving the ball up and down the field on them, it was just some decisions that I made cost us our team today,” Lobato said.
A fumble by junior running back Tromaine Dennis in the fourth quarter also resulted in a Montana touchdown a few plays later.
After being held to 133 total yards in the first half, the Grizzlies had 452 at the end of the game, often coming courtesy of running back Peter Nguyen, who had 159 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“These are never numbers that a linebacker likes to hear,” said senior Herve Tonye-Tonye, who had 10 tackles. “As a linebacker, you always hate to hear that a guy had 100 rushing yards, so we’ve just got to correct that.”
Despite Montana coming in with a winless conference record, UNC head coach Earnest Collins Jr. said he was not surprised that the Grizzlies were able to execute and take advantage of the Bears’ turnovers.
“Everybody was talking about Montana being down this year because they hadn’t won a game in the conference, but you don’t spend 119 weeks in the Top 25 and all of a sudden, you’re not a good football team anymore,” Collins said.
Collins also preferred not to point a finger at any specific area of the game as to show why UNC didn’t win but instead insisted that it’s the whole team that needs to improve.
“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,” he 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 do that on a consistent basis today and that’s why the outcome is what it is.”
UNC’s next test will come against Big Sky newcomer Cal Poly (5-0, 3-0), which hasn’t appeared to have any trouble adjusting to the league so far. The Bears visit the Mustangs at 7:05 p.m. Saturday in San Luis Obispo, Calif.