Quarterback Tony Smith got the starting nod against North Dakota after Andre Broadous was sidelined with an injury. Ryan Sidarto – Mustang Daily

Cal Poly quarterback Tony Smith didn’t even flinch on the sidelines when North Dakota nearly converted a clutch third down in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs held a slim one-point advantage, but the Fighting Sioux threatened to take the lead as they sent the field goal unit out onto the field with just over three minutes left in the game.

“Regardless if they made it or not, it wasn’t over,” Smith said. “We got to focus on being ready to go out and — whatever the scenario — try and make a field goal or get a touchdown.”

It turns out he didn’t need to lead his team on another scoring drive. North Dakota missed the 41-yard field goal and Cal Poly (5-3, 1-1 Great West) held on to defeat North Dakota (2-5, 0-3) 22-21 Saturday night in the team’s first game at Alex G. Spanos Stadium in more than a month.

“The home crowd is always great,” Smith said. “We played poorly at some points throughout the night but we’ll take it, it’s a win.”

Smith was shoved back into the starting lineup Saturday night due to a shoulder injury to fellow quarterback Andre Broadous. Smith started the first two games of the season, but was then sidelined with an injury during Cal Poly’s game against Montana on Sept. 11.

Until tonight, he hadn’t seen the field since.

Broadous took over and seemed to provide the Mustangs with a spark on offense. He passed for 510 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for 362 yards and three touchdowns, in five games. In three games, he racked up team-high totals on the ground and, in four starts, has led the team to a 2-2 record.

Replacing the Mustangs’ new star didn’t add any pressure on Smith’s shoulders, he said.

“I don’t think there was any pressure,” Smith said. “If anything, it made me feel more relaxed. I feel better when I know I am going in there and my number is going to get called.”

Playing time isn’t a new thing for Smith. He started all 11 games last year and threw for 1,618 yards. Against North Dakota, it didn’t take long for him and his teammates to get into the groove of things.

To start the game, Smith scored on a quarterback keeper to cap a 18-play drive. The Mustangs lumbered across the field, eating up 8:57 off the clock. Running back Mark Rodgers got a heavy dose of the carries and wide receiver Dominique Johnson chipped in when he could.

Cal Poly didn’t let up. In the second quarter, Rodgers punched in another touchdown, a 42-yard run off the corner to put the Mustangs up 13-0.

“(David Mahr) had a nice block and so did (Johnson) down the field and they just set it off for me,” Rodgers said. “I just went off their blocks and scored.”

As Rodgers ran across the goal line, he heard a sound he hadn’t heard for a while. It was the first time in five weeks a home crowd erupted to cheer after the Mustangs scored.

“It felt so good, everybody was juiced up to come back home,” Rodgers said. “(After) five road games, the body gets tired.”

It was something the Mustangs needed at the start of the second half, when the Fighting Sioux stole the show, Smith said. At the beginning of the third quarter, North Dakota scored on a 25-yard halfback pass — Josh Murray to Greg Hardin — to put the Fighting Sioux ahead, 14-13. On their next drive, they added more, punching in a five-yard touchdown run by Murray.

“The crowd really helped the momentum swing and kept that momentum on our side.” Smith said. “They were loud and they keep us going.”

With cheering behind them, the Mustangs responded with a 22-yard field goal by kicker Jake West to cut the deficit to five. Early in the fourth, Rodgers scored his second touchdown of the day, this time from two-yards out. The run gave the Mustangs a 22-21 lead and they would never look back.

“He’s got some serious speed,” Smith said. “He is a serious big time player and a huge addition this year for us.”

The Fighting Sioux threatened to take the lead in the closing moments. The fighting Sioux had a field goal attempt sail wide left with three minutes left in the game and quarterback Jake Landy completed a long pass to Jarrel Davis, but was stopped short at the 19-yard line as time expired — giving the Mustangs their fifth win of the season.

In Smith’s first start in five weeks, he finished 12-16 for 80 yards and an interception.

“It was fun,” Smith said. “Whatever my responsibility is week-to-week I do whatever the coaches ask me. This week it was to win a football game and I was just trying to put our team in the best scenario to do so.”

Smith helped his team keep their playoff hopes alive with their win over the Fighting Sioux. With one more loss, especially in the Great West, it may be hard for the Mustangs to try and get into the postseason. But for Smith, he is not looking that far ahead, he said. At this point, the team has to keep it simple.

“We got to take it one game at a time,” Smith said. “We were focused on this (game) and now we are tuned into St. Francis.”

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