Cal Poly Football dropped their home opener to the University of South Dakota 48-14 on Saturday, Sept. 18 inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium. 

The Mustangs (1-2) were without starting quarterback Spencer Brasch, opening up the way for freshman quarterback Kahliq Paulette to get the start, who impressed in his opportunity. 

Redshirt senior linebacker Matt Shotwell led the Mustang defense with a game-high 13 total tackles.

Paulette was able to take a few things away from Brasch as he prepared to be this week’s number one option. 

“He’s real confident, he slings the rock around, he’s just poised,” Paulette said. “He doesn’t let the moment get to him, and I really appreciate him just helping me out and coaching me up this week, basically giving me the keys to the offense and trying to help me thrive.”

The game started fast, with the South Dakota (2-1) offense coming out with momentum. The Coyotes scored the first touchdown of the game on a 13-yard run by running back Mike Mansaray. 

Just a few minutes later, a 54-yard strike from quarterback Carson Camp to wide receiver Carter Bell capped a two play drive that took just 36 seconds, which doubled the South Dakota lead to 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.

The Mustangs did not roll over, as they countered with their own quick score. Paulette found redshirt senior wide receiver Michael Roth for a 46 yard gain on 3rd down to keep the drive alive. A few plays later, Paulette looked for the edge on a scramble, but the defense had it cut off. Instead, he drew in the defense and delivered a pass on his back foot over the outstretched arms of a few Coyotes to find graduate wide receiver Chris Coleman, making it a 14-7 game.

The story of the first quarter was the difference in time of possession, as South Dakota had their offense on the field for more than 10 of the first 15 minutes. Their ground attack was a big reason for this, led by Mansaray who had his second rushing score on the team’s third drive to extend their lead to 21-7. 

The Coyotes were looking for their 4th TD on as many drives early in the second quarter as they got deep into the red zone behind their potent rushing attack. However, this time the Mustang defense tightened up and held the offense to a field goal, making the score 24-7. 

The Mustang offense had trouble building momentum in the second quarter, as they only amassed just 30 yards on 12 plays. 

Meanwhile, the Cal Poly defense continued to struggle, giving up two more touchdowns in the second quarter to make the score 41-7 going into half.

Despite the score, Cal Poly did not play with their heads down in the second half, as Paulette took a shot down the field in their first play of the half. Although he overthrew his receiver, this showed that Cal Poly was going to continue to play aggressively. In fact, on the next South Dakota drive, the Mustang defense forced the first Coyote punt of the game. 

In their next drive, Paulette led the Mustangs down the field inside of the Coyote 30-yard line before failing to convert a fourth down and turning the ball over. The third quarter finished with neither side adding to the scoreboard. 

The fourth quarter had a slow pace early on, but picked up right before the game ended. Redshirt junior quarterback Conor Bruce came in for relief for the Mustangs and fumbled on his first carry. The Coyotes took advantage, scoring a touchdown on a one-yard run by backup quarterback Cole Stenstrom to bring their lead to 48-7.

Bruce would bounce back in a big way, as he found redshirt freshman wide receiver Michael Briscoe over the middle of the field for a 61-yard touchdown on his very next pass. That score made it 48-14, which would prove to be the final score.

Head Coach Beau Baldwin was optimistic about what the team can take away from this performance as he expressed that there are a lot of learning opportunities for tonight’s game. 

“Our fight, our grit, our determination and everything else isn’t going to be based on the results of the last game,” Baldwin said. “And don’t get me wrong, losing stinks when you’re a competitor, but regardless we’re going to keep rolling, we’re going to keep scrapping, and we’re in for a tough opponent, they’re legit.”

Coleman also had a positive outlook on the Mustangs moving forward. 

“One thing this team is not going to do is back down from anybody,” Coleman said. “I’m fully ready, and I know the team is ready, to wash this and move on to the next one. Especially with Montana coming up, that’s a good way to test and see where we want to be and where we are.”

Cal Poly will look to get back on track as they play their first conference game next week against Montana on Saturday, Sept. 25 in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. 

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