MISSOULA, Mont. — It had the makings of a shootout before the North Alabama Lions ran out of ammo.
The host Montana Grizzlies bottled up the Lions offense in a dominant third quarter, rallying from a 17-16 halftime deficit to score a 61-17 nonconference win at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Grizzlies (2-0) of the Big Sky Conference rode two rushing touchdowns from Marcus Knight, improved play from quarterback Dalton Sneed and a huge punt return by Jerry Louie-McGee in that pivotal third quarter.
After Louie-McGee dazzled the crowd of 24,033 with his return, it was 40-17. Sneed hit tight end Matt Rensvold with a 9-yard scoring pass early in the fourth quarter to make it 47-17.
Before then Sneed had been outshone by North Alabama quarterback Christian Lopez, who like Sneed began his collegiate career at UNLV. By intermission Lopez had 280 passing yards, with scoring strikes covering 75 yards to Cortez Hall and 64 yards to Jakobi Byrd.
Byrd’s TD came three plays after the Lions sniffed out a fake field goal by Montana, getting the turnover on downs. It put North Alabama up 17-16; they took that lead into halftime when Sneed fumbled away the ball on Montana’s ensuing clock drive.
Then Sneed rallied the Grizzlies in the second half, while the Lions (1-1) — in their second year transitioning from Division II into the Football Championship Subdivision — faltered.
North Alabama managed just 66 yards of offense after halftime. Lopez had no completions in the third quarter, while throwing his second and third interceptions of the game. He had two interceptions all of last season.
Lopez finished 14 of 33 passing for 320 yards.
Byrd had six catches for 103 yards while Hall had two receptions for 82. Hall’s streak of 100-yard receiving games ended at four.
Montana tacked on one more fourth-quarter touchdown to score the most points by a North Alabama opponent in history. The record had been 60 by Jacksonville State in 1971.
Sneed finished 24 of 38 passing for 269 yards. He also had a 1-yard scoring run in the first half. Backup quarterback Cam Humphrey added a 12-yard scoring pass to Nick Ostmo in the fourth quarter for the Griz.
Knight finished with 89 yards and three touchdowns rushing. Louie-McGee had a game-high seven catches for 78 yards.
Blake Dever finished up at quarterback for the Lions, going 1-for-2 passing for 25 yards. Duncan Hodges also threw a pass for North Alabama, and had at the time what may have been the play of the game: A catch of a fumble by Lopez that kept a drive alive deep in Montana territory.
That ended with a short field goal by Joe Gurley, drawing the Lions to 16-10.
North Alabama returns home to play Alabama A&M next Saturday.