MISSOULA — Quarterback Lucas Johnson threw four touchdown passes in his first start at Montana and the Grizzlies’ defense was dominant in a 47-0 season-opening shutout victory over Northwestern State on Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Johnson, a transfer from San Diego State, hit wideout Mitch Roberts twice with touchdowns in the first quarter, the first on a 30-yard strike and the second on a 13-yard toss.
In the third quarter, Johnson found Junior Bergen with a 14-yard touchdown throw to make it 33-0. In the fourth, Bergen leaped to catch a pass from Johnson over the middle and ran the rest of the way to the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown and a 40-0 lead.
PHOTOS: No. 3 Montana shuts out Northwestern State in season opener
Johnson finished with 208 passing yards and 76 rushing yards.
It was the first regular-season meeting between the FCS programs, but their fourth meeting overall. The Grizzlies previously defeated the Demons three times in the playoffs (2001, 2002, 2004).
Turning point: The Demons were still in the game trailing 13-0 in the latter portion of the second quarter, but running back Marcus Knight made it a three-possession game with a 7-yard touchdown run with 4:11 left before halftime. Knight took a handoff from Johnson, broke right and waltzed into the end zone untouched.
The TD was set up in part by an earlier run during which Johnson scrambled away from pressure toward the sideline and tight-roped the boundary for an 18-yard, highlight-reel gain.
On Northwestern State’s next possession, Montana’s Levi Janacaro blocked a punt and teammate Tyler Flink scooped it up and ran 32 yards for a special-teams touchdown to put the Grizzlies ahead 26-0 with just 30 seconds left before halftime and, for all intents and purposes, put the game away.
Stat of the game: Montana’s defense limited Northwestern State to 226 total yards, including 43 net rushing yards and an average of 1.1 yards per carry.
The Grizzlies forced five turnovers, including three fumbles and interceptions by linebacker Patrick O’Connell and defensive back Garrett Graves.
Game balls: Marcus Knight (offense). Playing in his first game since 2019, Knight only had 26 rushing yards on six attempts, but his touchdown in the second quarter was his first in three long years. In 2019, Knight rushed for 1,030 yards and scored a school-record 25 total touchdown, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 season] and Knight then suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2021.
Braxton Hill (defense). Hill was seemingly all over the field, putting pressure on Demons quarterback Miles Fallin and tracking ball carriers from his linebacker position, especially in the first half. Hill, from Anaconda, finished with 10 total tackles, tying him for the team high. He had 1½ tackles for loss and combined on a sack.
Levi Janacaro (special teams). Janacaro made an impact on special teams with his blocked punt in the second quarter, leading to Flink’s recovery and touchdown. Janacaro blocked and punt, recovered it and scored a TD in a game last season versus Cal Poly. That was UM’s first blocked-punt touchdown sine 2002. Now the Griz have done it in two consecutive seasons.
What’s next: The Grizzlies will try to improve to 2-0 next week when it hosts South Dakota of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Coyotes, coached by Bob Nielson, were an FCS playoff team last year, and finished the season with a 7-5 record. They opened the 2022 season Saturday night on the road against Kansas State of the Big 12.