The Cal Poly football team’s play in a 38-35 loss to No. 13 Portland State on Saturday night can be summed up well by the number five.
Five penalties, with three of those coming at crucial points of the fourth quarter.
Five fumbles, four of which were recovered by Portland State.
Five losses this season, three in the Big Sky Conference games.
That being said, this was a game that was entirely in reach for the Mustangs (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky). They outgained the visiting Vikings (6-1, 3-1) by 150 yards on offense thanks to 420 rushing yards from freshman quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and a handful of running backs.
“We’re going to look at some things and see a lot of positives,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “Football-wise, we played football tonight on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately we made the mistakes that we did and it cost us the game.”
The offensive line controlled the trenches all night and opened up gaps for a myriad Cal Poly runners, four of whom had at least 50 yards on the ground. Junior slotback Kori Garcia had 18 carries for 131 yards and Jenkins finished with 93 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
The offense sputtered out of the gate, as the opening drive was cut short by a fumble after one play. This came after the opening kickoff was fumbled by the Mustangs as well. Cal Poly was lucky to only be down 6-0 after the Vikings’ first two possessions.
But the Mustangs’ offense responded with a 16-play, 78-yard drive to go up 7-6 with a touchdown from sophomore fullback Joe Protheroe. Protheroe finished the night with 11 carries and 75 yards and a touchdown and helped set the tone on offense as Cal Poly’s power back.
Jenkins found out he would be starting the game on Thursday after senior Chris Brown was ruled out with an undisclosed injury, but the short notice didn’t seem to shake him much. Following a touchdown by the Vikings, Jenkins made three defenders miss and outran the secondary on a 40-yard touchdown.
“I’ve been taking a lot of reps throughout the past two weeks just in case I needed to go in,” Jenkins said after the game. “I had a little bit of jitters at first, but it got easier with more time.”
The two teams traded scores multiple times in the third quarter, with the Mustangs scoring on a 1-yard run by sophomore fullback Jared Mohamed and a pass by freshman wide receiver Kory Fox to sophomore slotback Kyle Lewis. The Vikings responded with two touchdown runs by quarterback Alex Kuresa, who finished with 101 yards on 18 carries and threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns.
Lewis punched in another score for the Mustangs from 29 yards out to tie the game at 35-35 with 2:34 remaining in the fourth quarter.
But the Vikings marched down the field and ran out the clock, kicking a field goal with 33 seconds left to win the game.
Looking ahead, the Mustangs are down, but not out of a chance at a winning season. A strong showing next week against Southern Utah (5-2, 4-0) would do much to improve their confidence.
“We have two choices now: We can go 2-6 or we can go 3-5,” said Walsh. “That’s our choice. We’re going to do everything we can to fix what we need to fix for next week.”
The Mustangs play at Southern Utah next Saturday before returning to Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Nov. 7 to take on Sacramento State (2-6, 1-4).