Sophomore quarterback Dano Graves ran for 79 yards on 16 carries while he threw for 37 yards and three interceptions in a 35-22 loss to Eastern Washington on Saturday.
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In a must-win situation to stay alive for the Big Sky Conference’s automatic playoff berth, the Cal Poly football team first had to beat No. 3 Eastern Washington.
But in a game that featured the FCS’s most efficient passing offense against Cal Poly’s recently-stout defense, the Mustangs found themselves playing from behind early on.
While Cal Poly managed 19 fourth-quarter points after Chris Brown took over for sophomore Dano Graves at quarterback, the rally fell short as Cal Poly dropped a 35-22 decision to the Eagles in Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday.
“We tried to play catch-up and I don’t think that style of football is a good style to play,” senior slotback Cole Stanford said. “It would be nice to see us jump out to a faster start.”
Cal Poly (5-6, 4-3 Big Sky) scored the game’s opening points as the Mustangs settled for a 22-yard field goal from Bobby Zalud on their first possession, but it couldn’t put anymore points on the board until the fourth quarter.
Cal Poly held Eastern Washington (9-2, 7-0) scoreless and contained its star sophomore quarterback Vernon Adams to 19 yards passing in the first quarter, but the Eagles soon jumped on top with Quincy Forte’s 37-yard touchdown run that opened the gate for 35 unanswered Eastern Washington points.
“(Adams) was confused early in the game, but the one thing they picked up on is that we probably pressured them more than we should have,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “They took advantage and did a good job of knowing when we were coming.”
Freshman Cooper Kupp caught Adams’ next two touchdown passes to extend the Eagles’ lead. On the second of those passes, Adams was crunched by Cal Poly defenders on the release and left the game holding his right shoulder.
But Eastern Washington’s offense continued to churn as backup quarterback Anthony Vitto found receiver Shaquille Hill for a 54-yard touchdown strike in the third quarter and running back Mario Brown scored on a 34-yard scamper to put the game out of reach for Cal Poly.
“If you take the big plays away from it, we probably played good a majority of the time on defense, but when you give up 40 and 50-yard touchdowns, you’re not going to win a lot of games,” Walsh said.
Brown led Cal Poly on three scoring drives in the fourth quarter, including one that culminated in a 25-yard touchdown catch by Stanford, but it turned out to be too, little too late.
“I made eye contact with him before the play, and I don’t think he was going to throw that ball to anyone else, and I didn’t want him to,” Stanford said. “Whether I was double covered or triple covered, I wanted the ball in that situation.”
With Montana’s victory over Weber State sealed by the start of the third quarter of Cal Poly’s game, the Mustangs were mathematically eliminated from receiving the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs before their loss was final. An at-large bid to the expanded FCS playoff system will be highly unlikely as the Mustangs can only manage a total of six wins on the season, one short of the recommended seven for postseason acceptance.
Graves finished Saturday’s game 8 of 16 passing with three interceptions while Brown managed 87 yards through that air on 4 of 7 attempts. He scored a touchdown on the ground to go along with his scoring strike to Stanford.
Kristaan Ivory led Cal Poly’s ground game as he rushed for 91 yards on 14 carries. He became the 16th Cal Poly player to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season.
Adams finished the day with two touchdowns on 224 yards passing and Vitto had a touchdown on 127 yards for the Eagles.
Forte led Eastern Washington on the ground as he rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown.
“We shut down their run which is what makes them one-sided, but unfortunately their passing is still very efficient, so we couldn’t stop that,” senior defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz said.
Cal Poly will close out its 2013 season at Northern Colorado next Saturday.