MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzlies outscored North Alabama 24-0 in the third quarter and 45-0 in the second half, rallying from a one-point halftime deficit to blitz the Lions 61-17 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on Saturday night.
Montana (2-0) scored three touchdowns in the third quarter and added 21 more points in the fourth to dominate the second half. North Alabama led 17-16 at halftime behind Christian Lopez’s 75- and 64-yard touchdown passes to Cortez Hall and Jakobi Byrd, respectively.
But it was all UM in the second half. The Grizzlies opened the third quarter with a six-play, 65-yard drive that took only 2 minutes, 2 seconds. Quarterback Dalton Sneed found Jerry Louie-McGee three times on the drive for 34 yards, then scampered 21 yards on a QB run to the 1-yard line. Marcus Knight capped the drive with his second touchdown of the game, giving the Griz the lead for good.
“He did a good job. I’ll have to watch some film, but he averaged about 5 yards per carry. I thought he ran hard, was physical finishing runs and fought for yards,” Griz coach Bobby Hauck said of Knight, who finished with 19 carries for 89 yards and three touchdowns. “I’m pleased with the way our group on the offensive side — the offensive line, the backs and the receivers — blocked, too. I thought they did a nice job.”
Montana intercepted North Alabama twice in the third quarter and three times in the game, with Gavin Robertson’s pick coming only 1:24 after Knight’s touchdown. Brandon Purdy booted a 47-yard field goal to give UM a 26-17 lead.
“Those are big. To get 10 straight coming out and having the nine-point lead, our guys felt like the ship was righted,” said Hauck. “Our guys weren’t pleased at halftime, we weren’t sharp enough, but our assistant coaches did a nice job tweaking a little bit and our kids are smart and they can handle some change. They’re also competitive as heck.”
Four players later, Alex Gubner intercepted Lopez from his defensive end post, though the Griz offense would go three-and-out on the ensuing drive. But by then, Washington-Grizzly Stadium was raucous.
The Grizzlies’ defense forced a three-and-out on North Alabama’s next drive, with Louie-McGee returning the punt 29 yards to UNA’s 31-yard line. Knight showcased his hard-nosed running with a 24-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive to make it a two-score game.
Louie-McGee added to the onslaught with a 74-yard punt return touchdown minutes later, the third of his career and first since 2017. Louie-McGee finished with five punt returns for 150 yards, an average of 30 yards per return. He also led Montana with seven receptions for 78 yards.
“I thought he was going to get the first or second one,” Hauck said of Louie-McGee’s first returns. “He had some space, had two really nice returns in the first half, and the guys on that team really believe in him. They work hard for him.”
“My touchdown, the return team, I didn’t even get touched. I have to give all the credit to those guys,” agreed Louie-McGee. “All I had to do was catch the ball and find space to get in the end zone. It was awesome to get one (Saturday).”
“It’s unreal,” he continued of the 24,000-plus at Washington-Grizzly Stadium chanting his name. “When you’re out there, I stay focused and everything, but it’s really humbling that it’s possible. I appreciate the fans and all that.”
Despite the lopsided score, North Alabama didn’t back down from the atmosphere in the first half, scoring on a three-play, 94-yard drive that took only 1:00 off the clock when Lopez found Hall for the 75-yard score. After falling behind 16-7 on a 36-yard field goal from Purdy and Sneed’s 1-yard touchdown, the Lions responded with a Joe Gurley 21-yard kick and Lopez’s 64-yard strike to Byrd that put UNA ahead 17-16 at halftime.
“I thought we handled the crowd really well. I didn’t feel we were ever intimidated by the crowd. I just thought we came out (in the third quarter), kicked the ball off and kicked it out of bounds,” said UNA head coach Chris Willis. “They did some different things, quick passes on the perimeter … and had us on our heels the whole second half. It was just two different games.”
Montana finished with 530 yards of offense, including a balanced attack of 296 passing yards and 234 more on the ground. Nine different receivers caught passes, with Louie-McGee and Samori Toure each hauling in seven receptions. Sneed finished 24 of 38 for 269 yards and a touchdown. The Grizzlies also saw eight players carry the ball, with true freshman Nick Ostmo toting the ball eight times for 31 yards. He also caught a 12-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Beyond the two big touchdown passes, Montana’s defense was impressive, limiting the Lions to just 66 offensive yards in the second half. Robby Hauck led UM with nine tackles, one tackle-for-loss and the first-quarter interception, while all-American Dante Olson also had nine tackles.
Montana travels west to Eugene, Ore. next Saturday for a Pac-12 After Dark game against No. 16 Oregon. The Ducks (1-1) blasted Nevada 77-6 on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. Next weekend’s kickoff is slated for 7:45 p.m. (PDT).