Chris Villarrial mentioned earlier this week his anxiety over Montana's quick-strike offense. Bottled up for a drive or a quarter or a half, one missed assignment on defense could end in the Griz racing to the end zone.
He had no idea how right he would be.
A whimper of an offensive first half for the Griz turned fierce in the second as Montana struck fast and struck often in Saturday's 41-31 victory. The Grizzlies (1-0), ranked No. 13 in the preseason polls, scored three touchdowns on three drives of less than 1 minute and 45 seconds each.
The Griz turned a 17-13 deficit into a 34-17 lead in a red hot flash and less than a quarter's time at Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Those touchdown drives moved the clock just 1:42, 1 minute even and 38 seconds, respectively.
"The guys need to stay focused on the game and not try and play above themselves and make foolish mistakes," Saint Francis coach Chris Villarrial prophesied this week. "As a coaching staff, one of our biggest worries is this game can get crazy real quick with as fast as they can score."
The Griz rolled to 368 yards of offense and 35 points in the second half after the first two quarters yielded little more than frustration. UM managed just six first downs before the break and turned the ball over three times.
The Griz trailed 10-6 at that point.
The start of the third quarter acted as a rebirth for Montana. The team covered 73 yards in nine plays and 3:11 to reach the end zone and take their first lead since 3-0, Gustafson picking up the final 13 yards on a scramble on goal-to-go
The Griz had reached the 8 before back-to-back running plays went backwards. Gustafson then tucked a third-down snap and went head over heels into the end zone, the first of five total touchdowns for the senior.
That wasn't the momentum swinger the Griz thought it would be, though.
Saint Francis's preseason All-American kick returner Lorenzo Jerome took the ensuing kickoff back 86 yards to inside the Griz 10-yard line. Three plays later quarterback Zack Drayer barrelled in for the touchdown to regain the 17-13 lead.
Jerome had perhaps the best game on either side of the ball. That included another kickoff return of 79 yards that went all the way to the house, but his special teams antics only complemented his defensive play. No defensive player on either team had more than the 10 tackles from his safety position and he intercepted two passes.
But Jerome was only one man against a den of raging Grizzlies.
Gustafson threw second-half touchdown passes of 13 yards to redshirt freshman Justin Calhoun, 16 yards to senior Lane Hovey and 75 yards to sophomore Keenan Curran.
For each receiver, Saturday marked his first time in the end zone at Montana. It was also the first games as Grizzlies for Calhoun and Hovey, a graduate transfer from Nebraska.
After completing 13 of 21 passes for 111 yards with a pick in the first half, Gustafson got loose in the second. He finished with 353 yards through the air on 28 of 43 passing.
The 6-foot-7 passer from Billings also rushed for touchdowns of 12 and 1 yards and busted off a 20-yarder for a first down.
All of that came in the second half after a salty Red Flash (0-1) defense kept Montana out of sorts early. The Griz managed just two field goals, from 46 and 22 yards by redshirt freshman kicker Tim Semenza, before taking a breather in the locker room.
Semenza's first field goal out-distanced any by a Griz kicker in 2015, but wasn't the most notable boot of the night.
That belonged to Flash kicker Lance Geesey. His 25-yarder in the second quarter, a kick that tied a tight ballgame 3-3 at the time, also put him in a tie atop the Northeast Conference's all-time list with 46 for his career.
Saint Francis (0-1), which traveled 2,100 miles to Missoula for the game, proved no pushover after its long road trip.
SFU quarterback Zack Drayer had two touchdown passes and also ran for one, though he had a costly interception thrown to UM's Ryan McKinley. The rest of the Flash offense went through power back Marcus Bagley, who carried the ball 28 times to get to his 95 bruising yards.
The team's defense was even more filthy despite the 41 points allowed. It had three sacks of Gustafson, two that created fumbles, and four turnovers forced overall.
The Griz will need to play much better to find victory in Week 2 of the season. Montana visits preseason No. 5 Northern Iowa next Saturday; the Panthers upset FBS Iowa State 25-20 in their game this week.