MISSOULA, Mont. — After a slow start, Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson threw for three touchdowns, ran for two more and helped Montana beat Saint Francis 41-31 on Saturday night.

The season opener for both teams turned in the second half, when Gustafson had a hand in all five of his team’s touchdowns.

He threw scoring passes of 11, 16 and 74 yards – the last to Keenan Curran – as Montana rallied from a 17-13 deficit.

In the first half, Gustafson had three turnovers, and his two fumbles set up the Red Flash for a Lance Geesey field goal and a Zack Drayer touchdown pass to Marcus Alston.

“They did a great job defensively against us,” Montana coach Bob Stitt said of St. Francis. “Offensively we didn’t take advantage of a lot of things. We had some things we could’ve got, and it took a little talking at halftime to get after it.”

Gustafson put the Grizzlies ahead for good, 20-17, with his 11-yard pass to Justin Calhoun with 2:23 left in the third quarter.

“Straight up, flat out, I didn’t play to the best of my ability,” said Gustafson, who threw for 353 yards – 242 in the second half. “No nerves, I have to play better, and we will get better.”

Saint Francis used an 86-yard kickoff return from Lorenzo Jerome to set up a 1-yard run by Drayer with 9:59 left in the third quarter just moments after Gustafson’s 12-yard scoring run put the Grizzlies up 13-10.

Jerome, who had two interceptions, added a 79-yard kickoff return for a score in the fourth quarter.

Gustafson then added his second TD run, a 1-yard sneak, to cap a 70-yard drive. Montana had 520 total yards; the Red Flash had 253, with 73 coming on a scoring pass from Drayer to Junior Ajayi with 2:15 left.

Montana recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.

Marcus Bagley had 95 yards rushing for the Red Flash. Drayer was 13-of-25 passing for 184 yards with two scores and one interception.

“They’re going to win a lot of games,” Stitt said. “They gave us everything we wanted. It was a struggle.”

THE TAKEAWAY

SAINT FRANCIS: The Red Flash pushed the favored Grizzlies to the limit behind strong play from receivers Kamron Lewis and Junior Ajayi, running back Marcus Bagley and return man Lorenzo Jerome.

MONTANA: The second season under Coach Bob Stitt started slowly put finished strong, with quarterback Brady Gustafson accounting for all five TDs for the Grizzlies, who are ranked No. 13 in the FCS.

UP NEXT

SAINT FRANCIS: The Red Flash, out of the Northeast Conference, take to the road again, for a game at No. 24 Towson of the Colonial Athletic Association.

MONTANA: The Grizzlies also head on the road to face a more familiar foe in Northern Iowa, ranked No. 5 in the FCS. It will be the schools’ sixth meeting, including a pair of playoff games.