MISSOULA — The crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium burst into a chant of “Jerry” when Montana senior Jerry Louie-McGee returned a punt for a touchdown in the Grizzlies’ blowout win over North Alabama on Saturday.
“It’s unreal,” Louie-McGee said afterward about hearing an announced crowd of 24,033 chanting his name. “When you’re out there, I stay focused, watch the ball and everything. But it’s pretty humbling. It’s a blessing that that is possible. I appreciate the fans and all that comes with it.”
Dubbed ‘Mr. Electricity,’ Louie-McGee’s punt return touchdown was his first since Nov. 4, 2017 against Northern Arizona. It was his third of his career, with the first one coming on Sept. 10, 2016 at Northern Iowa.
The three punt return scores tie him with Marc Mariani (2006-09) and Levander Segars (2001-04) for the school record.
Against North Alabama, Montana had started to pull away before Louie-McGee ran back the punt for a touchdown. His 74-yard score gave the Griz a 40-17 lead and provided the sense that the game was out of reach.
“On my touchdown, the return team, I didn’t even get touched,” Louie-McGee said with a smile. “I would have to give all the credit to those guys. They went out there, they blocked their tails off. All I had to do is catch the ball and find space and get in the end zone. It was all credit to those guys to make me look good. It was awesome to get one today. Looking forward to playing the next.”
North Alabama coach Chris Willis thought it was a good-looking punt from Joe Gurley that could give his team time to get down the field and cover it well.
“We got it up and got good height, got good distance,” Willis said. “We punted it where it needed to go. I’ll have to look at the film. He cut back against the grain. It looked like, just watching the highlight on the jumbo, it looked like we were too overloaded over there and we got out of our running lanes, and he cut back, and once he got to the second level, some of the guys back there in the three-man shield, he just was a better athlete than them and was able to get by.”
Louie-McGee finished the game with five punt returns for 150 yards, the second most in a single game in Griz history. Mike Rice had 245 punt return yards against Weber State in 1985.
Montana coach Bobby Hauck thought Louie-McGee almost broke two returns for touchdowns in the first half.
“The guys on that team really believe in him, and so they work hard for him,” Hauck said. “Our mantra on that team is, ‘Hard work equals real estate,’ and we had a lot of real estate tonight. And then the last one, we changed it up and ran a little different return than we had been running on them.”
Louie-McGee also led the Griz receivers with 78 yards on seven catches. The latter moved him into second on the program’s all-time receptions list with 190, just two behind Raul Pacheco, who had 192. Louie-McGee has at least 10 games left in his final season.
“I mean, I don’t care about whatever record, and especially during the game,” he said. “The only thing on my mind is getting the win and playing hard and going play by play. If it happens or when it happens, I’ll appreciate it. But it’s just playing snap by snap.”
On the rest of the special teams, kickers Brandon Purdy and Gabe Peppenger combined to convert all seven extra points they attempted. Purdy made both of his field goal attempts and tied his career-long with a 47-yarder.
Punter Adam Wilson got in on the fun, running a fake punt for 19 yards and a first down on a drive that led to a field goal. He averaged 50.3 yards on three punts
On coverage, Montana limited North Alabama to an average of 12 yards on four kickoff returns and didn’t allow a punt return.
The lone special teams mishaps were a failed two-point conversion and fake field goal attempt in which the run came up short.
“The special teams part, we have a goal board that we’ll go through on Monday. It’ll be pretty full,” Hauck said. “The guys did a good job.”
Montana sophomore running back Marcus Knight scored three touchdowns in his first game in Missoula. He carried the ball 19 times for 89 yards, an average of 4.7 per rush, with 83 of those coming in the final three quarters.
Knight scored on a 2-yard run, a 1-yard rush and a 24-yard carry. His 24-yard run was the highlight, as he broke through multiple tackle attempts, was spun around by an apparent horse-collar tackle and still stayed upright to keep running toward the end zone.
“He did a good job,” Hauck said with an apparent tone of excitement in his voice. “I’ll watch the film a little bit more, but he averaged about five yards a carry. I thought he ran hard. I thought he was physical finishing runs and fought for yards. I thought it was blocked well. I’m enthused with the way our group on the offensive side — the O-line, the running backs and the tight ends and the wideouts — blocked too. I thought they did a nice job.”
The Griz rotated offensive linemen throughout the game in a challenge Hauck presented to the group.
“That was the plan going in,” Hauck said. “Wanted to juice that group up a little bit. We told them, a bunch of guys, they were going to play. We were going to roll some guys in, and we told them whoever played the hardest will probably be the starters next week.”
The offensive line helped the Griz run for 234 yards on 48 carries, an average of 4.9 per carry.
“Well, I can look at the rushing totals and I thought the protection was good,” Hauck said. “So, we’ll watch the film. Hard for me to tell you if the left guard position was good or not sitting here. I would say, generally speaking, those guys played well.”