MISSOULA — An inauspicious start didn’t stop No. 2-ranked Montana from blowing out Portland State 53-16 in the Big Sky Conference opener between the teams in front of 26,087 fans Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
After a special teams miscue on the opening kickoff, Portland State took a 7-0 lead. But the Grizzlies scored five touchdowns in the first half — including two on their own special teams plays — to take command.
One of those scores was a 99-yard return for a TD by safety Robby Hauck on a PSU field goal attempt that fell well short of the uprights. Hauck’s touchdown happened on the final play of the first half and put UM ahead 39-14.
Griz QB Lucas Johnson completed 20 of 26 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a TD, and now has 14 total touchdowns in four games.
Turning point: Portland State made a big special teams play on the opening kickoff, recovering the ball on a short, high-bouncing pooch kick. That led to a Mataio Talalemotu touchdown run on a reverse and a 7-0 Vikings lead right out of the gate.
But Johnson rushed for an 11-yard TD on the Grizzlies’ first possession, and then Junior Bergen made a big special teams play of his own when he returned a punt 72 yards for a TD for a 14-7 lead. Montana never trailed again.
Stat of the game: Johnson continues to be highly efficient. The Griz QB was perfect in the first half, completing 14 of 14 passes for 175 yards and a 4-yard touchdown to Mitch Roberts with 2:08 left before intermission.
Grizzly game balls: RB Xavier Harris (offense). Harris carried eight times for 92 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown scamper with 5:02 remaining in the first half. That score, which came on the first play of the possession, gave the Grizzlies a 24-14 lead.
S Robby Hauck (defense). With a stop in the second quarter, Hauck became Montana’s all-time leading tackler, surpassing the previous record of 397 held by ex-Griz linebacker Dante Olson. Hauck finished with seven tackles, and now has 402 in his career.
PR Junior Bergen (special teams). Bergen made an error on the opening kickoff when he failed to corral the ball, and that led to PSU’s first touchdown. But he more than made up for it later in the first with his punt return TD that put the Grizzlies ahead for good.
What’s next: The Grizzlies, now 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the league, will play their first Big Sky Conference road game next Saturday at Idaho State. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.