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Lucas Johnson, Griz defense shine as UM season starts with a bang

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Posted at 2:36 PM, Sep 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-05 10:05:14-04

MISSOULA — In their season opener the Griz looked every bit of their No. 3 ranking as they dominated in all facets of the game en route to a 47-0 blowout of Northwestern State on Saturday.

Quarterback Lucas Johnson wasted no time in his Griz debut, showcasing his dual threat ability throughout the game, and going 15 for 24 in the air for 208 yards and four touchdowns while adding 89 yards on the ground. After the game, Johnson said he felt good about his first taste of action in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.

“Man, we got the right guy in the program," said Griz head football coach Bobby Hauck. "I hadn’t seen him play a live game since high school, probably junior year in high school, so been a long time and glad he’s with us.”

“I’m just real comfortable with the offense we had," Johnson added. "I mean, we have so many play makers and we have a really good line so it’s just my job to get them the ball, so it makes my job really easy.”

Johnson’s first two touchdowns in the first quarter were caught by wide receiver Mitch Roberts who led the Griz in all major receiving categories with six catches for 103 yards and two scores.

While the Griz offense put up points, the defense stifled the Northwestern State offense all day, holding them to just over 200 yards total and pitching a shutout while also recording four sacks.

Along with their pressure on the Demons quarterback, the Griz defense forced 5 turnovers on the day as they caused nonstop havoc for Northwestern State from start to finish.

“To hit somebody else felt great," said redshirt junior linebacker Levi Janacaro. "We’ve been putting in a lot of work since January, with winter conditioning and spring ball, and then through the summer and fall camps, we’ve just been practicing against each other so to finally put on the pads and go against a different team felt amazing, it was a lot of fun”

Special teams was the third and final unit that excelled throughout the day, especially in punt coverage as the Griz put pressure on the Demons punter all day with several close calls and tips.

They ultimately broke through just before the half thanks to contributions from former Big Sky Eagles teammates.

Janacaro started the chaos with the blocked punt itself and his former and current teammate Tyler Flink pulled off the scoop and score to essentially put the nail in the coffin just before the half to give the Griz a 26-0 lead.

“All my teammates were around me, used up blocks, and it parted like the Red Sea," said Janacaro with a smile. "And I was the lucky one that got to put a hand on it. Flink has been my best friend for 10-plus years, it was awesome to see him go in the endzone, it was surreal.”

From there, the Griz coasted towards the finish line, ultimately racking up 21 more points to complete the thumping of Northwestern State.

With the season off to a fast start, the Griz will aim to carry that momentum into next week’s home contest against South Dakota, with Hauck highlighting some areas of improvement as well.

“We got to do some things better," said Hauck. "We had some yards come back via penalty, we were reaching, we had a chance to get their quarterback down, didn’t get him down. We let them generate too many first downs, gave up a punt return, gave up a kickoff return, missed some kicks, you know we got a lot of stuff to work on.”