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Mustang Stadium was packed past capacity for the Homecoming football game on Saturday night as No. 18 Cal Poly defeated No. 11 Eastern Washington 40-35 in a do-or-die situation for both teams.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Brennan took the helm of a potentially playoff-bound team with four games remaining on the season after senior quarterback Anthony Garnett suffered a season-ending knee injury Oct. 22. After leading a losing cause at UC Davis last Saturday, Brennan stepped up big time for Cal Poly (6-3, 3-1 Great West), leading the team to a victory with two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns.

“We have a number of redshirt freshmen out there, and to be the guy with the ball in your hands on every play, and to manage a game that’s going to be hotly contested against a quality opponent, that bodes well for him,” coach Rich Ellerson said. “He played last week and it wasn’t a fair fight. We weren’t winning enough of the fights up front to find out how he could operate the offense. The difference tonight was, on both sides of the ball, the offensive and defensive fronts more than held their own.”

The Eagles (5-4, 4-2 Big Sky) were coming fresh off a 48-17 walloping of Sacramento State, which included a 470-yard, three touchdown passing performance from quarterback Erik Meyer. A lethal Meyer completed 26 passes on 38 attempts for 428 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort against Cal Poly.

The Mustangs dominated the first half until the final minute when Eastern Washington snuck on the scoreboard with a 14-yard touchdown run from running back Ryan Cole, making the score 20-7.

The Mustang defense stifled any attempt Eastern Washington could get going during its initial drives. The usual suspects, defensive end Chris Gocong and linebacker Kyle Shotwell, made several big tackles and managed a sack on Eagle quarterback Meyer. An interception by cornerback Randy Samuel put an end to the Eagles’ hopes of getting anything going offensively for the first few drives.

Cal Poly started the second quarter off with a dazzler. On the first play, Brennan threw a 29-yard pass to wide receiver Jonah Russell, who jumped above Ford and bobbled the ball before pulling it in for the catch. Brennan hit Barden with a 3-yard pass three plays later for the Mustangs’ second score of the game.

Noble got the offense flowing halfway through the second quarter by slicing through the middle for a 57-yard run putting Cal Poly in the red zone. The Mustangs scored their third touchdown of the game on a 9-yard touchdown run by Brennan, his second rushing touchdown on the night that accompanied a pair of passing touchdowns.

The Mustangs started the second half with a 21-yard touchdown by Adam George, running right up the gut of the Eagles’ defense.

Eastern Washington came out firing after Cal Poly’s score, however. Meyer completed a series of passes to guide the Eagles down the field, including a 47-yard bomb to wide receiver Craig McIntyre for their second score of the game.

Brennan answered right back by shelling out a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Ramses Barden for their second connection of the game. The score put Cal Poly up 33-14 midway through the third quarter.

The Eagles showed their array of offensive weapons on the following drive with a 26-yard pass to McIntyre, a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Raul Vijil and two 10-yard completions by Meyer to wide receiver Eric Kimble and McIntyre. Eastern Washington capped off the drive with a 16-yard touchdown run from Cole to put the Eagles right back in the ball game.

The Eagles looked ready to claw their way back in to the game after an interception by defensive back DeNique Ford and a 30-yard completion to Vijil. But a strong defensive series, including three sacks, led by defensive end Matt Chachere put the Eagles at fourth and long, forcing them to punt.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Noble broke through the Eagle defense with a 74-yard touchdown run to put the Mustangs up 40-21 with a little more than 12 minutes remaining.

However, Eastern Washington refused to give in and fought back with a series of medium passes and short runs. A 3-yard pass from Meyer to Kimble chalked up the Eagles’ fourth touchdown of the game to bring them within two scores of the Mustangs with 10 minutes to go.

With three minutes left in the game, Meyer hooked up with McIntrye for a 35-yard pass to bring Eastern Washington within five points. However, the Eagles’ onside kick was unsuccessful and Cal Poly managed to hold on to the football until the end of the game.

“It’s indescribable,” Brennan said. “Last week I was disappointed that that we didn’t win our rivalry game. To come out and have all these fans behind me and all my teammates behind me, it feels amazing.”

Noble finished the night with 221 yards, which is the first time a Cal Poly running back rushed for over 200 yards since 1998.

“Everything I did, I just credit my line,” Noble said. “I didn’t know about the record, but it feels good though.”

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