This story was posted at 1:03 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 7.

What a difference a week makes.

Andrew Gardner, with tears of joy left on his face, was serenaded Aug. 30 after kicking a 21-yard field goal as time expired to carry the Cal Poly football team over San Diego State 29-27 and send his teammates into jubilation at their season-opening win.

Saturday night, the crying was of a different kind, as he had to be consoled by coaches and teammates after sending an almost identically centered, potential game-winner from 27 yards out wide left with 38 seconds remaining, and the No. 11 Mustangs fell to No. 6 Montana, 30-28 before 10,035 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

“We’re devastated,” said Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson, who had a word with the junior before the kick.

“I just said, ‘So Andrew, you want to be a college-football kicker, huh?’ ” Ellerson said. “It’s a lonely job. Everybody wants to be the kicker on Tuesday, but there aren’t a lot of volunteers for that (tonight). That’s tough duty.”

But Gardner, who was just short on his only other try of the night – a 39-yarder with 43 seconds left in the first half – wasn’t the only Cal Poly special-teams player with a regrettable evening – or any Cal Poly kind of player, for that matter.

Junior David Fullerton, primarily a strong safety who inherited punting duties after the graduation of All-Great West Conference Second Team member Tim Chicoine, had one punt wobble for an abysmal 14 yards, after having his only other one blocked.

After Cal Poly went three-and-out on the game’s opening series, Grizzlies senior running back Andrew Schmidt burst through a unit missing a usual mainstay in junior fullback Jon Hall to obliterate the kick. The next play, Montana senior quarterback Cole Bergquist hit senior wide receiver Mike Ferriter, who raced down the right sideline 34 yards for a touchdown a mere minute and 29 seconds into the game.

It got worse.

Less than five minutes later, the Grizzlies took over at the Cal Poly 39-yard line ensuing from the 14-yard punt, and proceeded to bulldoze that distance in a seven-play drive consuming 2:23, culminating with a 15-yard run by Bergquist to put themselves ahead 14-7.

And although the Mustangs lost just one of their three fumbles, one of the ones they fell on hurt the most.

Only 1:03 into the fourth quarter, Mustangs senior quarterback Jonathan Dally fumbled at his own 3-yard line.

“If I hadn’t made my mistakes, Andrew wouldn’t have even been in that situation,” Dally said.

The safety broke a 21-21 tie, before the Grizzlies pulled ahead 30-21 on a 4-yard touchdown run up the gut by Schmidt 2:42 later.

“It’s not complicated,” Ellerson said. “When you lose the turnover battle and you lose the kicking game – decisively – in a close game, that’ll get you killed.”

Schmidt, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, rumbled through gaping holes provided by Montana’s massive offensive line, and with 145 rushing yards on 26 carries, easily eclipsed his career totals entering the game – 117 rushing yards and one score on 32 carries. In the third quarter alone, he took 14 carries 96 yards.

“They obviously prepared very well for us,” Ellerson said. “We were scrambling to catch up to some of the stuff that they were doing that we hadn’t necessarily prepared for.”

Epitomizing the Grizzlies’ run dominance was a pivotal fourth-down try with 11:48 left in the final quarter, when Schmidt bulled a yard to the Cal Poly 30-yard line, where a first-down call was upheld by a measurement that visibly deflated the drained Mustangs front seven, overmatched in size by Montana’s road-grading front anchored by three preseason All-Americans.

“Guys started to play other people’s positions a little bit,” Ellerson said. “There were some heroics going on that created some of (Schmidt’s and Montana’s) opportunities.

“But don’t take anything away from (the Grizzlies),” he added. “They had to block some good football players up front, and that’s where I thought if we had a chance to play good defense, it was going to start with that defensive front, and they got handled some, and that’s a concern.”

While overpowered against the run, however, Cal Poly’s front seven made up for its lack of size with its quickness, collecting six sacks.

One of them, by senior defensive end Sean Lawyer (who had team highs of 11 tackles and 2 « sacks), came on a Montana fourth-down attempt with 5:40 left in the game.

“Sometimes it seems like we’re undermatched as far as size and height, but we’ve got speed on our side,” Mustangs senior wide receiver Ramses Barden said.

After Cal Poly took over on downs at its own 44-yard line, it moved 45 yards in seven plays, but stalled when senior left tackle Mike Porter false-started at the Montana 11-yard line, throwing a wrench in the would-be go-ahead effort leading to Gardner’s last attempt.

“We were trying to get in the end zone,” Ellerson said of the final drive utilizing three passes.

Cal Poly had done just that to close the gap to 30-28 with 8:21 remaining by going 73 yards in nine plays consuming 2:40, capped by a 2-yard run by senior running back James Noble.

After Cal Poly established a 21-14 halftime lead, Montana took the second-half kickoff and answered with 9:10 left in the third on an 80-yard, 12-play drive capped by a Bergquist 20-yard strike to Ferriter.

Bergquist finished 13 of 22 for 163 yards, and Ferriter made three catches for 65 yards.

While the Mustangs enjoyed a first-half 7:48 time-of-possession advantage – similar to theirs at San Diego State – the Grizzlies controlled the ball all but 3:51 of the third quarter.

The focus, Dally said, should be on that build-up to Gardner’s potential game-winner.

“We’re going to protect (Gardner),” said Dally, who completed 16 of 23 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, amidst adding 80 rushing yards on 16 carries. “Nobody’s going to get on his case about it. If you look at what happened last week, to try to beat him up over this now would just be hypocrisy. Andrew’s a tough guy. He knows we have his back, and he may get a lot of shots this week, but we’ll step in front of them and take the bullets.”

Barden, who made seven catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns, echoed similar sentiments.

“It should never come down to being that close,” he said. “A couple executions a little better, and Andrew may not even have to come on the field.”

The Mustangs, who squandered a 421-316 total-offense advantage, won’t face an opponent too accommodating for taking out those frustrations. They visit No. 9 McNeese State at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“Right now we’re a talented football team that’s trying to become a good football team,” Ellerson said.

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