The no. 16-ranked Cal Poly football team lost on the road to North Dakota 31-24 Saturday night in the second game of their Big Sky Conference schedule.
Junior fullback Joe Protheroe, who led the FCS in rushing yards per game heading in to the game, missed the game due to injury. Senior quarterback Dano Graves picked up the slack on offense for the Mustangs (3-2, 1-1 Big Sky), going 15 for 21 for 219 yards and throwing three touchdowns with two interceptions. But as a team, the Mustangs managed just 202 yards rushing in the contest, far below the 362.8 yards per game they averaged over their first four games.
Cal Poly managed only one first down in the first 28 minutes of the game. This put them behind 10-0 before putting together a nine play, 79-yard drive capped by a touchdown pass from Graves to senior slotback Kori Garcia with 32 seconds left in the second quarter. That cut the deficit to 10-7 going into halftime.
The Mustangs came out firing in the second half, scoring on the opening drive with a touchdown pass from Graves to senior wide receiver Carson McMurtrey. The score put Cal Poly up 14-10, but was the last time they held the lead. North Dakota (3-2, 2-0) scored 14 unanswered points and maintained an advantage, despite Cal Poly’s late scoring, to pull off the victory.
With Protheroe out of the game and facing the conference’s no. 1 rushing defense, it was a tall order for the Mustang offense to produce on the ground like usual. Graves’ efforts weren’t enough, nor were junior fullback Jared Mohamed’s 22 carries for 96 yards. As a team, the Mustangs managed 421 yards of offense but the defense surrendered 452 to the Hawks in the losing effort.
With this loss, the Mustangs will likely drop from their no. 16 ranking in FCS and may fall out of the top 25.
Looking forward, the Mustangs have their bye next weekend before heading to Portland State (2-3, 1-1). This couldn’t come at a better time for the offense, as Protheroe will have an extra week of rest that could give him the recovery time needed to finish out the season as strong as he started it.