MISSOULA, Mont. — Kentucky transfer Reese Phillips threw three of his four second-half touchdowns in a span of six offensive plays to lead Montana to a 45-23 win over Valparaiso in the season-opener for both teams on Saturday.

The senior capped a nine-play drive with a 14-yard strike to Samori Toure to put the Grizzlies up 24-13 in the third quarter. He hooked up with Keenan Curran on a 45-yard score on third down of the next possession and Jerry Louie-McGee for 25 yards on second down of the next series to make it 38-13.

Phillips, who never started at Kentucky, was 27 of 38 for 381 yards and one interception. The Grizzlies finished with 538 yards of offense to run their season-opening home winning streak to 14 games.

“There were some jitters for sure,” Phillips said. “I got comfortable as the game went on, like I said would, and I’ll only improve.”

Louie-McGee, who had nine catches for 159 yards, also hauled in Phillips’ fourth TD pass, a 17-yarder with 5:50 to play.

“That’s a guy we want to get touches every game, obviously,” Phillips said. “That’s the things he does. And it’s important to get him touches because that’s what he does. Not just him, but there’s so many other guys like that. We’re trying to get everyone touches and see what happens.”

Jeremy Calhoun ran for two touchdowns in the first half to give Montana a 17-13 lead.

“The first half didn’t go exact the way we wanted it to. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit, but it was almost a blessing in disguise getting behind. It was great to see our guys stay calm, cool, collected on the sidelines.” Montana head coach Bob Stitt said. “We came out in the second half and played very well defensively, and the offense caught fire a little bit.”

Backup quarterback Chris Duncan threw for two touchdowns for the Crusaders, who had 450 yards on offense. Dimitrois Latsonas kicked three field goals.


Valparaiso: The Grizzlies played without the injured safety Justin Strong, and Valparaiso took plenty of deep shots in response. Valpo quarterbacks Jimmy Seewald and Duncan combined for 327 yards through the air.

The Crusaders tested the Griz defense early. In the first quarter, Valpo marched into Grizzly territory twice thanks to a 50-yard and 61-yard pass. Montana’s 2016 Big Sky Conference-leading defense held them to just a field goal both times.

“They give up big shots,” Duncan said. “We’ve just got to look for our best one-on-one matchup and take advantage of it.Got to take advantage of what they give you.”

Coach Dave Cecchini said, “We could’ve won that football game. We have no one to blame but ourselves. It starts with losing the turnover battle, which we preached. We pride ourselves on discipline and not turning the ball over.”

Montana: The Griz found a quarterback.

“As the game went on, I felt a lot more comfortable,” Phillips said. “It was good to face some adversity. This is a resilient team. We never felt like we were down. We were fine, we were OK, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot.”

The defense settled in as well. Safties Josh Sandry and Evan Epperly, Strong’s replacement, each took interceptions on deep throws. Defensive end Tucker Schye forced and recovered a fumble in Valpo territory in the third quarter that set up a Montana touchdown.

“Coach (Jason) Semore had a lot of words to the secondary and they got it corrected,” Stitt said of his defensive coordinator’s successful halftime adjustments. “You work for three weeks with guys and they’re doing it perfect, and in the game they don’t. It’s great to get these reps so they can calm down and execute the play that the defense called.”