Mustang News Staff Report
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For the second year in a row, the Cal Poly football team found itself separated from Northern Arizona by less than a touchdown, on the losing side of the point differential.
The Mustangs took a loss Saturday night at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Arizona, by a score of 38-35 in front of a standing-room-only crowd during Family Week. This time, Cal Poly was the team in need of a defensive stop to win, rather than the other way around.
On fourth-and-4 from the Cal Poly 13-yard line, the Mustangs failed to come up with the pivotal defensive stop. Northern Arizona freshman quarterback Chase Cartwright faked a quarterback scramble and found a wide open receiver in the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. Cal Poly fell to 0-3 on the road and 0-1 in Big Sky Conference play.
Cal Poly featured very little defense, a far cry from last week’s game against Portland State, where head coach Tim Walsh described his defense’s performance as the best all year. The Lumberjacks were only forced to punt twice in this game, once on the opening drive and once in the fourth quarter.
However, the Mustang offense shined this week. Through the first quarter, the Mustangs totaled 102 passing yards. Junior quarterback Chris Brown had his second consecutive stellar offensive performance. He went 10 for 17 through the air, amassing 214 passing yards and a touchdown. Brown also ran for 91 yards on 26 rushes and added two more scores. Another encouraging offensive sign was the performance of freshman wide receiver Jordan Hines, whose final stat line included five catches for 117 yards and a touchdown.
On the game’s opening drive, Brown found Hines open on a play-action fake to put the ball on the Northern Arizona 23-yard line. Brown later ran it in on a goal-line carry to start the scoring. From there the teams traded touchdowns until Cal Poly was able to stop Northern Arizona on the one yard-line thanks to a tackle by freshman defensive lineman Marcus Paige-Allen to force a field goal and put the score at 17-14 in favor of Northern Arizona with 3:46 left in the second quarter.
Cal Poly’s two minute offense was successful with Brown at the helm, which ended with a touchdown by junior wideout Chris Nicholls. The touchdown set the score at 21-17 in favor of the Mustangs with just 1:31 to go in the half.
The Mustangs’ defense entered the second half receiving, and didn’t let up a score. After a huge fourth-and-28 conversion, senior fullback Brandon Howe punched it in to give the Mustangs their biggest lead of the ballgame at 28-17.
From there Northern Arizona went on to score 14 unanswered points and take the lead 31-28 at the end of the third quarter. The fourth quarter went much like the entire game, with each team exchanging touchdowns. Northern Arizona scored the last touchdown with 36 seconds left on a drive that started on its own 29 with 1:36 left.
Cal Poly returns home from its second conference matchup against Southern Utah next Saturday Oct. 4 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Rafael Salinas contributed to this report.