Ian Billings/Mustang News

Cal Poly football’s home opener was a chance for the Mustangs to move up from their 18th-ranked spot in the nation with at an upset over No. 11 Northern Iowa.

But on a warm night in a crowded Alex G. Spanos Stadium, Northern Iowa won the coin toss, elected to receive the kickoff and never looked back on their way to a 34-20 victory.

Northern Iowa’s first drive lasted less than two minutes, capped off by a 7-yard rushing touchdown by Savon Huggins. Cal Poly’s attempt at a response was thwarted on the next drive after Chris Brown’s pass was intercepted 7 yards from the end zone.

The Panthers went on to score two consecutive touchdowns before the end of the first quarter.

The Mustangs finally got on the board early in the second quarter on Brown’s 42-yard rushing touchdown, cutting the lead to 21-7.

Both teams traded stalled drives for most of the second quarter until Northern Iowa finally broke through late in the half. After Brown turned the ball over on a fumble, the Panthers quickly scored with a five-play, 36-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 7-yard pass to Braden Lehman.

At the end of the first half, the Panthers outgained the Mustangs 323 yards of offense to 191. Northern Iowa was eight-for-ten on third down conversions while Cal Poly converted only three of ten opportunities on third down.

Cal Poly came out aggressive to start the second half, attempting to extend their initial drives twice on fourth down. After driving down to the Northern Iowa 9-yard line, the Mustangs came up unsuccessful on a fourth down conversion attempt, turning the ball over on downs.

The Panthers continued their drive early into the fourth quarter before quarterback Aaron Bailey punched into the end zone on a 2-yard designed QB sneak. The Mustangs did block the Point After Touchdown (PAT) attempt, leaving Northern Iowa with a 34-7 lead.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Brown punched the ball in from close to the goal line for the Mustangs’ second touchdown of the night. The touchdown only resulted in six points as kicker Stephen Pyle clanged the PAT attempt off the left upright.

Late in the fourth quarter, the crowd was treated to a touching moment when Cal Poly wide receiver Willie Tucker caught his first pass in over a year after coming back from a serious knee injury. Tucker’s catch helped lead the Mustangs to another touchdown, a 2-yard rush by fullback Jared Mohamed.

When the clock struck zero, the Mustangs fell to 1-2 on the season and Northern Iowa advanced to 2-1. Brown led all rushers with 184 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns.

The Mustangs continue their season next week in Bozeman, Montana as they take on No. 9 Montana State.

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