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The Cal Poly football team (2-3, 1-1 Big Sky Conference) preserved its unbeaten home record with a 42-39 victory over Southern Utah (1-5, 1-1) on Saturday. The Mustangs improved their conference record to 1-1 following last week’s defeat at Northern Arizona.
Junior quarterback Chris Brown continued his stellar offensive production in the first half, notching 14 points for the Mustangs. He finished 13-of-17, gaining 141 yards and two touchdowns. Brown rushed 17 times for 117 yards and another score. On the opening drive, Brown was 3-of-3 in the air for 24 yards, including a 13-yard pass to senior tight end Austin Albison.
“We’re trusting our line, trusting the blocking to get the guys they need to get,” Brown said. “Our receivers are starting to get in a rhythm because they’re starting to get the ball in their hands. It all comes with rhythm.”
On the ensuing Southern Utah drive, Cal Poly’s defense forced a fumble, recovering it on the Thunderbirds’ 23-yard line.
From there, the Mustangs capitalized with strong power-running by sophomore running back Kori Garcia and senior fullback Brandon Howe. The rushing tandem combined for 19 yards on the drive before Howe powered his way in from the 1-yard line to put the Mustangs ahead by two scores. Howe finished the game with 28 rushes for 133 yards and a score.
Before the first quarter was over, junior wide receiver Jordan Hines displayed a beautiful piece of route running. Hines lost his defender, darting toward the back left corner of the end zone where Brown placed the ball right into his path for the score. With the Mustangs leading 21-0, the first quarter was everything the Mustangs wanted.
The second quarter, however, was the polar opposite.
Seventeen unanswered points carried the Thunderbirds into the half trailing 21-17 and set to receive the ball to start the second half. The Thunderbirds’ junior quarterback, Ammon Olsen, passed to junior wideout Justin Brown for a 29-yard score and added a 3-yard run of his own. They also capitalized at the start of the half with a 5-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Chandler Allphin, making it a whopping 24 unanswered points in favor of Southern Utah.
“Our eyeballs have to be not just on one guy, but on all 11 guys on defense,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “Right now, when things start to get a little wild out there, guys’ eyes wander a little bit and their assignments get lost a little bit in the shuffle. We got to have more discipline to stay focused in those tough times.”
The Thunderbirds’ 10-play, 77-yard drive was capped by senior fullback Brent Michaels’ 4-yard touchdown run.
Unfortunately, the Mustangs have made a habit of trading touchdowns in the second half. The trend looked poised to end with the Mustangs facing a fourth-and-5 from the Thunderbirds’ 32-yard line. A field goal would have tied the score at 31, but a gutsy call from Walsh led to senior running back Kenny Mitchell rushing for 8 yards and a first down. That first down was followed by Brown’s 1-yard touchdown run, setting the score at 35-31.
“We have a lot of confidence in our offense, and I knew this was going to be an offensive game,” Walsh added. “Field goals weren’t going to win the game, touchdowns were.”
On the ensuing drive, the Mustangs’ defensive unit came up with a stop that left the Thunderbirds with a game-tying field goal opportunity, which went wide.
With the score still 35-31 and the opportunity to separate from his opponents, Brown seized the moment. He broke off two big runs of 28 and 21 yards on the drive to set up Garcia’s 5-yard touchdown run, putting the Mustangs ahead 42-31.
The desperate Thunderbirds attempted a deep ball down the sideline, but senior safety Jordan Williams pounced on an underthrown ball for a crucial interception.
Southern Utah scored once more in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to three with a 42-39 score. The Mustangs were able to run out the final 3:27 on the clock, sealing the victory.
The Mustangs and their high-octane offense will try to score their first road win on Oct. 11 at Weber State.