Missoula — Montana found themselves in a season-opening battle Saturday at Washington Grizzly Stadium — until quarterback Clifton McDowell provided the spark that was desperately needed.
McDowell, a transfer from Central Arkansas, led a rushing rally in the third quarter and then scored a fourth-and-goal with 6:34 remaining as Montana pulled away from a spunky Butler for a 35-20 victory. This is the 20th consecutive win for the Grizzlies in its stadium opening, dating back to 2004.
Pictures: no. 14th Montana Grizzlies Open Season with a win over Butler
UM Junior receiver Bergen set an explosive early tone. On the third play of the game, Bergen caught a quick pass from quarterback Sam Vidlak and rushed 54 yards for a touchdown and the #14-ranked Grays took a 7-0 advantage after just 55 seconds.
However, the Grays were in a fight leading 21-20 with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter after Vidlac was intercepted by Lukas Koslowski. That turnover led to Brett Boska’s touchdown pass to Ryan Lizon on fourth and two to make it a one-point game.
turning point: After Vidlac was selected for the second time, McDowell took charge at the center position and the Grizzlies answered right away. McDowell ran for 10 and 16 yards on consecutive plays, then handed off to Eli Gilman who scored from 24 yards with a header on the sideline. That put the Grizzlies ahead 28-20 with 3:41 left in the third.
GRIZ POSTGAME: Bobby Hawk, Ryder Meyer, Eli Gilman smash victory over Butler
Cornerback Trevin Gradney made a sports interception of Poshka on a pass down the field on the first play of Butler’s next drive. The Griz defense continued to hold – particularly when safety Nash Fouch came in to land a slam dunk on Jack Bill on the Bulldogs’ sweeping play early in the fourth quarter.
Game statistics: Montana had a huge disparity in rushing yards, outscoring non-scholarship Butler on the ground 230 to 41. The Grizzlies averaged 5.1 yards per carry with Gillman leading the way with 119 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown.
Grizzly game balls: QB Clifton McDowell (forward). Needing a jolt that leads to just one point, McDowell stepped in and used his legs to add a new dimension to the UM offense. McDowell finished with 80 yards on 11 carries. His short TD run in the fourth made it 35-20 and Montana can breathe easy.
CB Trevin Gradney (Defender). Gradney, a Billings West product, intercepted Boschka to eliminate Butler’s possession in the third period. He then broke up a Boschka pass on a single coverage down the sideline to force a punt with UM leading 28-20. Gradney’s covering efforts proved decisive in the second half.
BK Grant Glasgow (Special Teams). Glasgow, a freshman from Kansas, made a pair of field goals, including a 49-yard run that put the Grizzlies ahead 13-3 with 9:43 left in the first half.
What then: The Grizzlies (1-0) hit the road next week to St. George Utah to face Utah Tech in a 7 p.m. Montana and Utah Tech (formerly Dixie State) have only met once before, when the Grizzlies won 31-14 in a Washington-Grizzley home game during the 2021 season.