MISSOULA, Mont. -- The halftime adjustments were good. The second-half fight and grit was tremendous.
A dismal first half, however, killed No. 13 Northern Iowa in a 26-23 loss to No. 24 Montana Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The Panthers booted the opening kick out of bounds, and things did not get much better in a first half that saw the Grizzlies lead 26-0 at halftime.
"We didn't play with any intensity in the first half," UNI head coach Mark Farley said. "We were on our heels. We were on our heels the whole first half, that is all I really can say.
"The second half changed when we started playing with intensity. That is the difference in anything. It is not just execution. It is how you make a play come to life, we played with a lot more urgency and that changed our demeanor."
A switch at quarterback and a rejuvenated defensive effort saw UNI pull within three with 3 minutes, 14 seconds left before Montana, with the Panthers out of timeouts, converted on a third-and-short to get a first down and run out the clock.
Colton Howell replaced a struggling Eli Dunne early in the third quarter and engineered three long scoring drives, the final a 20-yard strike to Nick Fossey that made it 26-23 after Howell hit Briley Moore for the two-point conversion.
Howell finished 11 of 22 for 140 yards and he rushed for 22 yards and a touchdown after Dunne completed just five of 20 passes for 24 yards and an interception.
Trevor Allen rushed for 50 second-half yards, and Moore caught five passes for 78 yards in the second half.
"I don't think we came out ready to play," Moore said. "It clearly was a wake up call in the first half. The second half, I think we got calmed down a little bit and started playing like ourselves.
"We played UNI football in the second half, and it is not how we played in the first half"
Additionally, after giving up 273 first-half yards, UNI's defense held the Grizzlies to 75 in the second half.
"I hope that second half put a spark into everyone," Howell said. "We lost the game so it is hard to feel good about anything, obviously. I just feel terrible that we lost. I feel there was more I could've done."
For the first 30 minutes, No. 24 Montana dominated all phases of the game as the poor first half did the Panthers in.
Montana outgained UNI 273-47 as Dunne completed just four of 17 passes and UNI managed just four first downs compared to 16 for the Griz.
Dunne wasn't helped early as two potential first-down completions were dropped by wide-open receivers.
Those were just two of many self-inflicted wounds by the Panthers. UNI committed seven first-half penalties for 67 yards, including four personal fouls.
The Panthers also struggled to contain Dalton Sneed, who completed 18 of 25 passes for 196 yards, hitting a bunch of quick, short pass plays. He also frustrated UNI with his scrambling ability as he scored Montana's first touchdown on a 17-yard run. Sneed extended several other plays by scrambling out of trouble.
Sneed finished 26 of 39 for 248 yards and a touchdown, and he rushed 15 times for 58 yards.
Tim Semenza hit field goals of 25 and 33 yards, the last at the first-half buzzer, and Montana got a 10-yard touchdown pass from Sneed to Samori Toure that made it 16-0 with 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
Montana scored on a 25-yard double pass midway through the second quarter when Keenan Curran hauled in a toss behind the line of scrimmage and then hit Colin Bingham with 6:07 left in the half.
UNI, on the other hand, went three-and-out on six of its eight first-half drives.
Dunne never looked comfortable and late in the third quarter the Panthers switched to Howell, who directed a 13-play, 90-yard drive to get UNI on the scoreboard with a 1-yard sneak. Howell keyed the drive with a 30-yard read-option run.
The Panthers made things more interesting early in the fourth when Howell took UNI 77 yards in 10 plays for a Marcus Weymiller 1-yard TD run and two-point conversion run that made it 26-15 with 11:43 to go.
"We fought. You can't quit. It's the first game of the year and you are down 26-0 and you quit, you're going to be crappy team. It was good we came out and fought."