Junior quarterback Chris Brown and the Cal Poly offense were able to out-perform the formerly-first-place Montana State defense. | Ian Billings/Mustang News

Rafael Salinas

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The mid-season conference showdown between the Cal Poly football team (6-3, 5-1 Big Sky Conference) and Montana State (6-3, 4-1) ended with the Mustangs moving into first place in conference, preserving their unbeaten home record with a 35-27 victory.

“For us, the way we played tonight and the way we played the last five weeks, I have to give so much credit to our coaches and players,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “Our players are playing as hard as any team I’ve coached in my 30-something years.”

The Mustangs hung close with the Bobcats in the first half, courtesy of rushing touchdowns by junior quarterback Chris Brown and sophomore running back Kori Garcia. Brown followed up his record-setting performance from last week with 97 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and also passed for 107 yards and another score.

The Bobcats maintained a 17-14 lead at the break.

The Mustangs set the tone early in the second half, despite a holding penalty which negated a Brown touchdown pass on the opening drive. Brown responded with a 23-yard touchdown pass to freshman running back Kenny Mitchell, putting the Mustangs up 21-17 early in the third quarter.

“We know the Big Sky is all about great defense, and right now we had to figure out that our offense was going to have to put it together, and our O-line did great,” Brown said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything else in that third quarter.”

In the second half, the Mustangs’ defense seemed determined to bend, not break, before the Bobcats’ junior running back punched it in with a very tough run, breaking a few tackles and propelling the Bobcats to a 24-21 lead.

Sophomore fullback Brent Michaels reciprocated on the following drive for Cal Poly by breaking off a 47-yard scamper to put the Mustangs near the red-zone. Junior fullback Brandon Howe responded by going 23 yards into the end zone to put the Mustangs up 28-24.

The defense took the momentum from there and secured a win with its relentless attitude.

“We learn from every game and we keep playing the way we’re playing and we keep learning from our mistakes; I think we’re gonna be really good,” senior linebacker Nick Dzubnar said when asked about the defense’s play.

With Cal Poly leading in the fourth quarter, the defense came up with the necessary stops to seal a victory.

On 3rd-and-5, Dzubnar broke up a pass as he found himself draped all over his assignment and made what seemed like the drive-halting play. However, the Bobcats successfully converted a fake punt and gave themselves a first down and another opportunity from their own 46-yard line.

However, the defense only allowed two more yards after that lapse to force a three and out, returning possession to the Mustangs.

Chris Brown sealed the victory with a 2-yard run with 2:38 left to go in the game.

The Mustangs take the first-place spot in the Big Sky with the victory, their fifth-straight win this season. They return to action at Idaho State on Nov. 8 to face the Bengals at 1:35 p.m.

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