Cal Poly’s football team (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky) dominated a quick game against Sacramento State (2-7, 1-5) at Alex G. Spanos Stadium in front of a sparse crowd Saturday evening.
The Mustangs, donning alternate white helmets, green tops and white pants uncharacteristically passed the ball for 95 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-14 thrashing of the Hornets.
After junior defensive lineman Marcus Paige-Allen blocked a field goal to end Sacramento State’s opening drive, the Mustangs’ offense took advantage of the defensive stand.
The ensuing 11-play, 89-yard Cal Poly drive finished with senior quarterback Chris Brown throwing his seventh passing touchdown of the season into senior wide receiver Jordan Hines’ outstretched hands. The catch marked Hines’ seventh career touchdown reception.
The rest of the first quarter remained scoreless, but the Mustangs found themselves on the attack to start the second quarter.
Two consecutive strong rushes by sophomore fullback Joe Protheroe set up a passing opportunity to begin the quarter. Brown took full advantage of the opportunity with a 29-yard touchdown completion aired out to sophomore slotback Kyle Lewis. The touchdown marked the third receiving touchdown of Lewis’ young Cal Poly career and put the Mustangs up 14-0.
“Right when they called it, just the defense they were in, I was like, ‘There’s no way this guy’s gonna follow me,’” Lewis said. “They’re too focused on the run, so I was just running full speed. The safety saw me last minute and he knew it was over.”
Defense dominated the remainder of the first half, as both teams were held scoreless for the final 13:47.
At halftime, Brown had yet to throw an incompletion. Brown completed all three first-half passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns. The Mustangs also had four players with double-digit rushing yards: Brown, Protheroe, junior slotback Kori Garcia and sophomore fullback Jared Mohamed.
Quickly after receiving the ball to start the second half, the Mustangs’ offense put on a clinic. A balanced 10-play, 75-yard drive that featured a 43-yard completion from Brown to senior wide receiver Willie Tucker and 32 total rushing yards resulted in a 1-yard Protheroe touchdown run. The drive took only 3:43 and put the Mustangs on top 20-0.
A sack by defensive lineman Kelly Shepard forced a Sacramento State turnover on downs on the ensuing drive. Then the Mustangs took over at the Hornets’ 46-yard line.
Another quick 9-play, 4:04 drive ended with a 7-yard touchdown run by Mohamed. Senior kicker Stephen Pyle failed to convert the PAT for the second time in the game and the Mustangs led 26-0.
Sacramento State found its first points late in the third quarter. A penalty-ridden drive that included two personal fouls against the Mustangs culminated in a 2-yard touchdown rush for the Hornets.
The Mustangs faced a scare at the beginning of the following drive after freshman quarterback Khaleel Jenkins replaced Brown, who was on the sideline with ice wrapped tightly around his lower leg.
“I doubt today he could’ve (come back in). He’s pretty sore right now, but I think he’ll be okay by next week,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “He isn’t gonna miss any more games, that’s basically what he said to me. He’s a warrior and he always has been here.”
Jenkins, who started the Mustangs’ game against Portland State on Oct. 24 in place of an injured Brown, fit in seamlessly. The Mustangs marched down the field on Jenkins’ first drive and settled for a 23-yard Alex Vega field goal.
After stopping another Sacramento State drive, Cal Poly took over at its own 30-yard line. It took only one play to score as sophomore tight end Reagan Enger took a handoff 70 yards for his first career rushing touchdown to give the Mustangs a 36-7 advantage.
The Hornets tacked on one more touchdown in the final two minutes of play, but the score was far too little, too late to harm the Mustangs. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Cal Poly.
“Overall, extremely pleased for our players,” Walsh said. “They really do deserve it. I think we have a good football team that’s kind of put ourselves behind the eight ball because of the mistakes we made, and tonight, for the most part, we didn’t make those mistakes. I think we played a good football game.”
The Mustangs finished without a 100-yard rusher for the first time this season, but their rushing attack was far from futile. Enger’s 91 rushing yards on six attempts led nine players who tallied at least one rushing attempt for the Mustangs.
Brown finished the game with 95 passing yards and two touchdowns, completing six of seven passing attempts.
“We threw it more efficiently and we threw it down the field,” Walsh said. “We thought we could make some vertical pass plays.”
Cal Poly’s offense wasn’t the only side of the ball that shined. Defensively, senior linebacker Tu’Uta Inoke totaled 10 tackles and the Mustangs combined for four sacks on the night.
“Every game, our first thing is stop the run. I thought we did pretty good as a defense. We played pretty good together as a unit,” Inoke said. “We knew we had a freshman quarterback back there, so we just wanted to give him different looks and make sure we fly around and put pressure on him all night.”
The Mustangs return to action next week when they travel to UC Davis for the Battle of the Golden Horseshoe.
One of the team’s mottos this season is “Faceless except for Davis.” Walsh said he wants the team to take it one week at a time without worrying about the opponent, but that UC Davis is different.
“They’ve taken (the rivalry) a little more seriously I think than we have at certain times. There’s some payback probably on our minds,” Walsh said.
With the playoffs virtually out of the picture for the Mustangs, the players know next week’s game is an important one. With a wry smile, Inoke added, “We know what’s at stake playing against Davis.”