Christian Lopez vs. Montana

UNA's Christian Lopez looks for some running room against Montana Saturday night. [MASON MATTHEWS/FOR THE TIMESDAILY]

MISSOULA, Mont. — Before a dominant third quarter put the host Montana Grizzlies in command 40-17, the battle between former UNLV quarterbacks had swung over to the side of North Alabama’s Christian Lopez.

Partly due to the big-play ability of Jakobi Byrd (106 yards by halftime) and Cortez Hall, Lopez had 280 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns by intermission, outshining his counterpart for the Griz, Dalton Sneed.

Lopez’s 64-yard strike to Byrd gave the Lions their first lead of the game, 17-16, at 1:48 of the second quarter. When Montana’s ensuing clock drive ended with a Sneed fumble at the UNA 14-yard line, the Lions took that lead into the locker room.

The first Lopez TD was a 75-yard catch and run by Hall, on a screen. Through two quarters he had completed 10 of 17 passes.

The bad news: Lopez had surpassed his 2018 interception total (2) midway through the third quarter.

North Alabama had an impressive opening drive end with a tip-drill, end zone interception by Montana’s Robby Hauck. The Grizzlies’ Dareon Nash tipped away a pass intended for Dexter Boykins and Hauck — son of UM’s head coach Bobby Hauck — dove in for the pick.

It was Lopez’ first interception of the season, and stopped a streak of 57 passes without one.

In the third quarter Lopez had two more passes picked off, one leading to a Montana field goal. By then the Grizzlies were back in front 26-17.

At 6:53 of the quarter Lopez had a pass intercepted by Montana defensive end Alex Gubner, though UNA’s defense then forced a punt.

Lopez also had a fumble in the second quarter deep in UM territory but tight end Duncan Hodges — he saw action at QB on the same drive — caught the ball in midair to let UNA maintain possession. Joe Gurley followed with a chip-shot field goal to draw UNA to 16-10.

At the half Sneed had thrown for 130 yards and run for just 4 — including a 1-yard scoring run.

Momentum swung back toward Sneed after halftime. In the third period he completed 10 of 12 passes for 124 yards, while the Griz running game got going behind Marcus Knight, who added his second and third TD runs in the frame.

Lopez, meanwhile, did not have a completion in the third quarter.

Strong special teams

Montana coach Bobby Hauck has built a reputation as a strong special teams coach, and if you’re the North Alabama Lions you take the good with the bad.

In the first quarter Montana’s Adam Wilson sprinted 21 yards with a fake punt to resurrect a drive that ended with the Grizzly field goal — and a 10-7 lead. But after that the Lions sniffed out a swinging gate-style PAT run to keep the deficit 16-7 and Sneed’s TD; then they swamped a fake field goal late in the first half.

Three plays after that fake, Lopez found Byrd for his second long touchdown pass of the contest.

Then came a disaster: Late in the third quarter UNA’s Gurley boomed a punt in the direction of Montana’s Jerry Louie-McGee, and the senior took it 74 yards for the score.

The put the Grizzlies up 40-17 with 2:51 left in the third quarter. By then Louie-McGee had 145 yards on three punt returns.

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