There were 20 seconds on the clock in a heartbreaking loss to the Montana Grizzlies, when Anthony Garnett went down with a knee injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.
It was redshirt freshman Matt Brennan that took the field in place of Garnett. He thought that he was going to finish the game and then return to his role as backup quarterback and starter-in-training.
What he didn’t know then was that Garnett was done for the season and he, a former walk-on that earned his scholarship, was going to be starting for the rest of the season on a nationally-ranked team in the midst of a playoff race.
“When I walked off the field and into the locker room and saw Anthony, I knew that he was going to be out,” Brennan said. “I went over to him and gave him a hug and he said, ‘Just pick up where I left off.’”
Just picking up where Garnett has left off has been in the back of Brennan’s mind ever since, Garnett’s words standing as an internal motivation to get the job done.
Last year, the Mustangs lost two games in the home-stretch. They finished the season with an 9-2 record and missed the Division I-AA playoffs and dropped to No. 15 in the ESPN poll and No. 16 in the Sports Network poll.
This year, with three games remaining the Mustangs, as well as Brennan, are in a proverbial “do or die” situation.
“The coaches are acting like right now we’re in the playoffs, but if we don’t win we’re not going to be in, so we have to play like it’s the playoffs right now,” Brennan said.
With his first college football experience coming in the Mustangs’ opener at Troy State, Brennan has had little time to settle into his position, but he was more relaxed last week against UC Davis than he was against Troy State, Brennan said.
“I could not believe how fastpaced it was,” Brennan said of the change of pace between Division I-AA football and high school. “Against troy my mind was running a million miles an hour, last week my mind slowed down a lot.”
Coming into this season, Brennan was expecting to soak up as much information and experience as he could from Garnett, as well as fellow backup quarterback John Mende. So it came as a shock when Brennan got the starting nod from coach Rich Ellerson.
“It was actually kind of numbing,” Brennan said, when asked about how it felt to be thrown into a starting position for a team in the middle of a playoff race.
Despite the pressure, Brennan is optimistic about the Mustang’s chances for the rest of the season and specifically this week’s game against Eastern Washington University, a team that downed the Mustangs last year and contributed to their exclusion from the Division I-AA playoffs.
“We’re going to go out there and just protect homefield,” Brennan said. “In not worried about the homecoming thing, it’s just another game.”
In reference to keys to the game this week, the offense needs to pick up its production and give the defense some support and time to rest, Brennan said.
Brennan is bound and determined to improve on last week’s performance in which he was 8 of 18 for 58 yards, rushed 21 times for 10 yards and was sacked six times.
“We’re going to be better this week, keep our heads up and play our game,”Brennan said.