The homecoming opponent

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A Homecoming atmosphere awaits coaches with Montana connections as Northern Arizona visits Missoula Saturday in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.

You know you always try just a bit harder I think to beat good friends or relatives whether it's at Yahtzee, Dominos or yes, even football.

And it certainly is no different with the Lumberjacks in town this weekend to challenge the superiority of the Grizzlies who have lost just a single league home game since 2006.

Jacks head coach Jerome Souers , who was Montana's defensive coordinator when he left Missoula to take over a faltering Lumberjack program some 16 years ago, has never defeated the Grizzlies and while the last three games have been decided by just 14 points and five of the last six meetings by a touchdown or less, they still went into the Grizzly win column.

Former Grizzly Matt Thompson , a member of the recently inducted Grizzly Hall of Fame team is the Lumberjack defensive coordinator and former coach and linebacker Dave Reeves also is on the NAU staff.

To add even more intrigue, new UM Athletic director Kent Haslam was an NAU assistant athletic director for six years before coming to Missoula in 2007.

But when asked in the weekly league teleconference about the "Elephant in the Room," Jerome refused to comment on his personal scenario, instead preferring to talk about his players and the success he wanted for them to enjoy by claiming a victory in such an environment as Washington Grizzly Stadium.

Senior quarterback Cary Grossart returns this week after missing the last two games because of a knee injury sustained in the opening loss to Arizona State.

Picked seventh by the coaches and ninth by the media the Jacks have one of the best running backs in the country in Zach Bauman who eclipsed the Century mark the last two outings against the Grizzlies (127 yards in 2010 and 148 in 2011) and while just a junior has 15 100-yard games, stands fourth on the career rushing list and is on the Walter Payton watch list.

Returner Austin Shanks has taken punts to the house for 75 and 74 yards in the last two games, one short of the NCAA record, and leads the nation in return average.

Because of the unbalanced schedule with the addition of four teams bring league membership to 13 for football the Lumberjacks do not face Montana State, Weber State or Eastern Washington, while they do travel to both Portland State and Cal Poly, all teams above NAU in the pre-season poll.

It is the opening weekend of the 50th Big Sky Conference season and this one is shaping up as a barn burner.

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