A game-winning touchdown pass from Jaden Jones to Chris Coleman and a trio of interceptions clinched a 28-27 victory for Cal Poly football in their home opener against the University of San Diego on Saturday, Sept. 10 inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Mustangs (1-1) were down big early, but they clawed their way back for the win over the Toreros (1-1) in front of the home crowd.
Alex G. Spanos Stadium was bustling for the home opener as students, families and alumni filled the stands.
“I appreciate these fans so much,” head coach Beau Baldwin said. “We don’t even have students on campus yet, but you could feel the energy and noise. I thank Mustang nation for that.”
After both teams came out unsuccessful in their respective first drives, the Toreros broke the scoreless tie in a tricky fashion.
With 7:40 remaining in the first quarter, San Diego quarterback Judd Erickson tossed a lateral to fellow quarterback Re-al Mitchell, who then unloaded on a 43-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Lawson for the score. The double pass and the ensuing extra point gave the Toreros a 7-0 advantage.
On their next drive, the Mustangs seemed to have found the big play they needed as Jones, the redshirt freshman quarterback, found freshman tight end Tyrece Fairly-Diyem over the middle of the field for a 40-yard gain. However, at the end of the play, the ball was punched out of Fairly-Diyem’s arms and San Diego recovered to regain possession.
The game then slowed down a bit, as there were three punts in a row before Jones surrendered the second Cal Poly fumble of the day to give the ball back to the San Diego offense in the red zone.
The Toreros were able to capitalize on this turnover with a field goal, extending their lead to 10-0 with 8:12 left in the first half.
After a nine-play drive for the Mustangs came up empty with a turnover on downs, San Diego took advantage of a running-into-the-kicker penalty and a facemask against Cal Poly to add to their advantage, once again with a trick play.
With 2:03 left in the half, quarterbacks Erickson and Mitchell were at it again. Erickson took the snap, handed it off to Mitchell, and, while the defense’s attention shifted to Mitchell, he lofted an eight-yard touchdown pass to Erickson in the endzone to take the 17-0 lead.
For the first time all game, the Mustang offense responded with a touchdown drive that lasted just 58 seconds. In those 58 seconds, Jones led the offense on a six-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by a 42-yard touchdown reception by redshirt freshman tight end Josh Cuevas.
Cal Poly took this momentum into the halftime locker room down 17-7.
Coming out of the half, the Mustang offense stayed hot with a seven-play drive punctuated by a 41-yard touchdown connection between Jones and Fairly-Diyem to cut the San Diego lead to 17-14. About the success later in the game, Jones mentioned the need to settle into the matchup.
“We just had to play our game,” Jones said. “We were excited for the home opener, but as soon as we settled down and played the game within the game, that’s when we started to get things rolling. Having confidence in yourself is what leads to success.”
The two squads then struggled for the majority of the third quarter, alternating punts until the Toreros got on the board with a 40-yard touchdown pass of their own, extending the lead to 24-14 with just seven seconds to go in the third quarter.
The Cal Poly offense couldn’t get anything going in their next drive, and San Diego set themselves up for another score with a big punt return that landed them at the Cal Poly eight-yard line to start the drive.
However, the Mustang defense stood strong and held the Toreros to a field goal to bring their advantage to 27-14.
With just 12 minutes to go, Jones and the offense had a 14-play drive end with an 11-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior tight end Ryan Rivera, cutting into the lead once again at 27-21.
The very next drive, San Diego was looking to put the Mustangs away for good, and they were receiving some help. A pair of 15-yard penalties by Cal Poly and a solid rushing game set up the Toreros with a first and goal from the Mustang five-yard line.
With just over five minutes left in the game, San Diego opted to throw a fade pass into the back corner of the endzone, and it was intercepted by freshman defensive back Jay’vion Cole, swinging the momentum completely in favor of the Mustangs.
With three touchdown passes already under his belt, Jones stepped onto the field with 5:15 left and a chance to take the lead after Cal Poly had trailed 17-0 earlier in the game.
The Mustang offense began to chug down the field, with Jones leading the way with his arm and his legs. With two and a half minutes to go, the first-year starter dropped back and lofted a pass down the right sideline, finding Chris Coleman’s hands in the endzone.
“When I saw the ball in the air, I said ‘yeah, this is me,’” Coleman said. “I had been beating him all day and it was almost a sense of calm like ‘we’re gonna score right now.’ There was no pressure at all, we practice that all the time. I’ve been put in that position quite a few times and I was glad I was able to pull it out.”
With the game-tying touchdown grab, the Mustang fans at Alex G. Spanos Stadium erupted. When sophomore kicker Jaden Ohlsen nailed the extra point to take the 28-27 lead, that same crowd sighed in relief.
“It was unbelievable, I was on the floor after I got hit,” Jones said. “All I could see was the crowd going crazy and that’s the sound you want to hear as an offense.”
The game was far from over, as the Toreros got the ball back at their own 35 yard-line with 2:20 to go. After a pair of incompletions and a five-yard catch, the San Diego offense was faced with a fourth and five with the game on the line.
As Torero quarterback Judd Erickson took his dropback and released his pass, freshman defensive back Brian Dukes stepped in front and grabbed the interception, sending the Alex G. Spanos crowd into another frenzy.
After an attempt to run out the ball by the Mustangs fell short of the final whistle, San Diego found themselves with the ball once again with 23 seconds left.
However, it was Jay’vion Cole yet again intercepting the pass to clinch the 28-27 win and send the fans home happy.
“It says a lot to see two freshmen come up with three picks,” coach Baldwin said. “Picks are plays where all 11 guys are involved.”
Jones was 26-for-41 passing, racking up 383 passing yards and four passing touchdowns to go with 24 yards on the ground. Coleman, meanwhile, had nine receptions for 94 yards and the game-winning TD. On the ground, redshirt junior running back totaled 54 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
After the win, coach Baldwin stressed his belief that the team has more room to grow this season as they continue to get game action.
“We are going to find ourselves, especially offensively and I thought we started to find something at the end of the first half,” coach Baldwin said. “We have to find who we are and what our go-to will be, and sometimes it takes playing in games to really feel that, especially with young players.”
The Mustangs will look to make it back-to-back wins against South Dakota on Saturday, Sept. 17 at 11 a.m. at the DakotaDome.