MISSOULA — Montana's win over No. 18 Northern Arizona gives the Grizzlies a quality win and keeps their playoff hopes alive.
Even though NAU was ranked 18th in the STATS FCS Poll, the playoff committee had the Jacks seeded ninth as Northern Arizona hadn't lost since September and was cruising on a six-game win streak.
"We were ready for a big-time game and (this is) one that we're gonna be talking about for years to come," Montana coach Bob Stitt said. "These guys, every time they get together when they're 30, 40, 50 years old, they're gonna be talking about this game. That's what it's all about. That's what college sports and college football is all about."
Montana hadn't beat a ranked team all season, with its only chance coming against Eastern Washington (or Washington of the FBS).
As it stands, Montana's 4-2 record in the Big Sky Conference has it tied for fourth with Eastern Washington and Montana State.
Three teams are ahead of Montana in the standings — Southern Utah, Weber State and NAU. But the tie won't last forever as Northern Arizona and Southern Utah play each other the last week of the season.
Cookus ejected for targeting
Welcome to the upside down, folks. Northern Arizona quarterback Case Cookus was tossed on Saturday early in the first quarter for targeting.
Under center on first-and-10, Cookus pitched the ball to NAU running back Corey Young, who ran to his left before pitching the ball to tight end Wallace Gonzalez on the reverse. Gonzalez ran around to the left for a 2-yard gain.
Montana's James Banks ran up to Gonzalez in an attempt to tackle him, but Cookus came in from the left to protect his man. He led with his shoulder and made helmet-to-helmet contact, dropping Montana's senior outside linebacker.
The referee threw his flag immediately.
While the play was being reviewed, Montana's Connor Strahm consoled Cookus and patted his helmet.
After the referee announced he was ejected, Cookus fumed as he was escorted down the sideline and off the field.
"Since I've been at Montana, I'm not amazed at anything," Montana coach Bob Stitt said of seeing a quarterback be ejected for targeting. "Last week was pretty tough, I've never been through something like that. This week was the first time I've ever seen a quarterback get a targeting call. Man, you just gotta try to stay level-headed."
Emotional return for Souers
Northern Arizona's Jerome Souers has been with that program for 20 seasons.
Two games into the 2017 campaign, NAU and Souers announced they were splitting ways.
Before he helmed the program in Flagstaff, he worked for Montana as the defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator.
"Really mixed emotions," Souers said of being back for potentially the last time. "You don't realize how many friends you have. It's been 20 years. ... You see people, run into people like it was yesterday. A lot of great memories here. A lot of great friends. You get to this side of things in your career, you look back, you realize how good you had it."