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The Cal Poly football team (5-3, 4-1 Big Sky Conference) continued its winning ways with a 41-21 upset over No. 7 Montana (5-3, 3-1) in front of 10,755 attendees at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday.
Junior quarterback Chris Brown put up video game stats, running for 226 yards with two touchdowns and 107 passing yards. In the process, he shattered his own school record for rushing yards by a quarterback.
“It’s all about being on the same page and sticking together with my brothers,” Brown said. “(Head coach Tim) Walsh trusts us and we trust him to put us in the right position. It’s a great relationship.”
Cal Poly set a physical tone at the beginning of the game, dominating the line of scrimmage and forcing Montana to a three-and-out on the Grizzlies’ first offensive possession. Cal Poly capitalized on offense with a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Kori Garcia. The drive was highlighted by a gutsy call from Walsh to go for it on a 4th-and-1 on Cal Poly’s own 31-yard line.
“That’s who we are,” Walsh said. “We are a four-down offense. It sets the tone for us on offense, and as a coaching staff, we trust Chris and everybody to execute in any situation.”
With Cal Poly leading 7-0, the first quarter was everything the Mustangs wanted. The second quarter, however, was the opposite.
A pair of unanswered touchdowns carried the Grizzlies to a 14-7 lead midway through the second frame.
Montana featured an aerial passing attack the Mustangs struggled to keep up with. Senior quarterback Jordan Johnson found a streaking Joshua Janssen down the left sideline, who leaped up and snatched the ball from a Mustang cornerback for a massive 50-yard gain. The Grizzlies eventually tied the game at seven when Johnson found Jamaal Jones on a one-yard pass. They also took the lead on a 20-yard pass to Mitch Saylor.
With the momentum clearly against them, the Mustangs persevered. On the ensuing offensive possession, the Mustang offense marched down the field to tie the game, highlighted by Brandon Howe’s five-yard touchdown run.
The Mustangs were fortunate to be tied at 14 at halftime — a roughing the passer call left the Grizzlies with a half-ending field goal opportunity, which went wide.
In the second half, the Mustangs played their hard-nosed style of football and dominated on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Brown seized the game for the Mustangs. On a 3rd-and-5 at the Grizzlies’ 15-yard line, Brown faked the handoff to Garcia and juked his way 11 yards for a first down.
Brown eventually found a wide-open Garcia in the corner of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass after Garcia leaked out of the backfield on a play-action pass. The score put the Mustangs up 21-14.
Despite having the lead, the Mustangs did not let up. Facing a 4th-and-2 on their own 41-yard line, Walsh pulled the trigger. The Mustangs failed to convert when Brown was stopped a yard short on a quarterback keeper. Fortunately, the decision did not backfire, as the Mustang defense forced a punt.
Brown continued to dominate both on the ground and in the air. He engineered an eight-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that spanned 3:32.
On the drive, senior Kenny Mitchell ran a beautiful out route, turning the Grizzly cornerback’s hips and losing him completely. Brown then lofted a perfect 43-yard pass to Mitchell just barely over the leaping extended arms of a Grizzly safety.
Brown capped the drive off with a 17-yard touchdown run followed by a missed PAT to put the Mustangs up 27-14.
The defense sealed the game, applying constant pressure on Johnson.
Senior defensive end Chris Judge notched a key sack in the fourth quarter, which ended any hope for Montana.
“We came in with a chip on our shoulder,” Garcia said. “We know we’re a good team and they’re obviously ranked high, and we just had to hand it to them.”
Cal Poly hosts No. 10/11 Montana State (6-2, 4-0) for its Homecoming game at 6:05 p.m. at Alex G. Spanos Stadium next Saturday.