Cornerback Nico Molino came into Saturday’s matchup against Portland State with the second-most interceptions (4) in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Cornerback Nico Molino came into Saturday’s matchup against Portland State with the second-most interceptions (4) in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Brian De Los Santos

Nico Molino has proved to be the backbone of the Cal Poly secondary this season. But just when his senior year was riding on nothing but highs, it took a dip against Portland State.

“I had one of the worst games I’ve ever played,” Molino said. “I’m just happy for the team. It’s something I can bounce back from. It didn’t cost us a loss, so I’ll get over my own personal frustrations, but I’m happy for my team.”

The Cal Poly football team (7-0, 5-0 Big Sky) came out swinging in its 37-25 win over the Portland State Vikings on Saturday at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, but after Molino gave up a few momentum-swinging plays in coverage, it’s going to take a short-term memory for the senior cornerback to get over his personal struggles in the Mustangs’ victory.

“It’s frustrating, man. I work so hard and I put in so much time and effort watching film, and I feel like I am a pretty good player. So to have those things happen, it’s very frustrating,” Molino said. “But at the end of the day it’s football, and my team picked me up and I can’t thank them enough for having my back and keeping my head up.”

From the moment the Vikings’ offense first stepped on the field, they tested Molino and the Mustangs secondary. They completed a 43-yard pass on a flea flicker and then a 32-yard score to Justin Monahan to put the Vikings on the board first, leading 7-0.

“They always say DBs got to have short-term memory,” Molino said. “You got to let those things go and with the help of my teammates it was kind of easy to … let it go and move on to the next play.”

Or so it seemed. The Vikings aired it out for most of the game, with Portland State quarterback Kieran McDonagh throwing for 221 yards with two scores. In the fourth quarter, Molino nearly intercepted a pass from McDonagh, before Monahan grabbed the ball in midair and wrestled it away for a 37-yard reception.

“They did a couple of good things well, a couple of great throws and great catches. I hate to say it, but sometimes you have to give credit to your opponent,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “A couple of times he was right there.”

The game, however, was far different than how he had been playing this season. Prior to last weekend’s matchup against Northern Colorado, Molino led the Football Championship Subdivision with four interceptions. He came into this weekend with 41 total tackles — good for third best on the team.

Molino is not new to the lineup. He missed four games a season ago because of an injury and earned just one start, but he did start all 11 games in 2010 alongside former four-time all-conference defensive back Asa Jackson. During that year, he had 50 total tackles, 33 solo, and intercepted two passes.

And this year, he’s back in the starting role.

“We have a great secondary,” linebacker Johnny Millard said. “Nico got some balls caught over him (today), but he’s definitely a great player. He was right there and he went up for some balls, and that happens sometimes. But the great thing about Nico is that he keeps a positive attitude.”

It’s the key to the entire secondary’s success, Molino said. And while he struggled against Portland State, it did nothing to discredit the work and success the entire secondary has had this year.

“We work well together, we communicate well, we got a new coach who really has brought us together and we feel like family,” Molino said. “That’s such a big thing when you’re back there and it’s times like when I get beat I get guys telling me, ‘You’re our family, man. We got your back, you got ours and everything’s good.’ That tends to help you forget the bad plays quickly and try to move on after that.”

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