Cal Poly opens Great West Conference play Saturday night at South Dakota State, the Mustangs first ever trip to Brookings, S.D.
The Mustangs (2-1) moved to No. 12 in the Division I-AA rankings after pummeling No. 18 Montana State 38-10. The Mustangs climbed six spots from No. 18 before Saturday’s victory. Montana Stae was ranked No. 11 prior to the loss.
Cal Poly’s only loss this season came at the hands of Troy, an Div. I-A team from Alabama, 27-10.
A week later, the Mustangs defeated Sacramento State 37-13 in their home opener. South Dakota (2-1) has home wins over Wisconsin-LaCrosse 42-13 and Valparaiso 69-6. South Dakota’s only loss was at No. 4 Montana last Saturday, 7-0.
South Dakota State has 14 returning starters and 26 lettermen from a 2004 squad that finished 6-5. It was the team’s first season at the Div. I-AA level.
Cal Poly, which moved up six spots in The Sports Network poll this week, returns 51 lettermen, including 12 starters and the punter. Last year’s team team broke numerous school records and produced Buck Buchanan Award winner Jordan Beck, a third-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons. Chris Gocong is a favorite to win the award this season.
Cal Poly 38, Montana State 10
The currently under-renovation Spanos Stadium was filled to capacity Saturday night as the Mustangs defeated the No. 11 team in the nation.
The stadium admitted 8,043 fans, surpassing its 7,500 capacity. Several dozen students lined the fences outside the far side of the field where construction is underway at Spanos Stadium.
The game didn’t see its first points until the waning seconds of the first quarter after Cal Poly’s Courtney Brown intercepted his third pass of the season at the Montana State 28-yard line and returned it for a touchdown.
Cal Poly went ahead 14-0 after Anthony Garnett found the end zone on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.
Montana State responded with a lengthy, 80-yard drive and scored on a Travis Lulay to Michael Bass 21-yard touchdown pass. Lulay finished the night a lackluster 12 of 25 passing with an interception and one touchdown pass. He was sacked five times and mishandled four snaps.
It was Wes Pryor’s sack on Lulay that proved to be a turning point. Pinned on the Montana State 1-yard line, Pryor sacked Lulay and Lulay fumbled into the end zone. All-American Chris Gocong dove onto the loose ball to give the Mustangs a 21-7 lead.
The Mustangs never looked back.
Garnett finished the game 7 of 12 passing for 180 yards. He carried the ball 13 times for 51 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back James Noble had 18 carries for 164 yards and one touchdown.
Gocong earned Great West Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. He had 10 tackles, one fumble recovery and three sacks. Kyle Shotwell led the Mustangs with 12 tackles.
A tough road ahead
Montana State was a big win for the Mustangs, but there are plenty of tough games remaining.
Cal Poly plays No. 8 North Dakota State (3-0) at Spanos Stadium on Oct. 8. Two weeks later the Mustangs travel to No. 4 Montana followed by a trip to UC Davis, which upset Stanford 20-17 over the weekend. Davis was one of two teams to beat the Mustangs last season.
Cal Poly also plays No. 5 Eastern Washington at home on Nov. 6.
Cal Poly won its first seven games last season and was ranked as high as No. 5, but was left out of the playoffs.