Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh knows a thing or two about Portland State. After all, he managed the Vikings for 13 years before coming to San Luis Obispo in 2009.
And tonight, his Mustangs (7-0, 5-0 Big Sky Conference) came out on top, 37-25, in a back-and-forth conference game against Portland State (2-5, 1-3) on Saturday evening at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“We were playing for coach Walsh,” senior running back Deonte Williams said. “We wanted to get this win for him.”
The Vikings wasted no time making things happen, as quarterback Kieran McDonagh needed only two plays and 43 seconds to score. With the ball on the 25-yard line, McDonagh busted a flea flicker trick play and completed a 43-yard pass to wide receiver Nevin Lewis.
“They had two weeks to prepare for us, and I think they took advantage of it,” linebacker Johnny Millard said. “They had some really good plays.”
After a brief timeout, McDonagh connected with wide receiver Justin Monahan for a 32-yard touchdown pass, putting the Vikings up 7-0 with 14:23 left in the first quarter.
“Hats off to them,” Millard said. “Obviously you get frustrated with big plays, but it’s how you respond, and we responded by saying ‘let’s stick to our assignments.’”
The Mustangs indeed responded. Quarterback Andre Broadus tossed a 31-yard pass to running back Cole Stanford, tying the score at 7-7.
But the six-play, game-tying possession came at a price. With the ball on the Mustangs 49-yard line, Williams was tackled after a 6-yard gain. When the pile cleared, Cal Poly right tackle Mike Freeman remained on the ground, his left ankle twisted perpendicular to his right.
“That’s football,” Walsh said. “Mike Freeman has had a tremendous year. I want to make sure that (he and injured right tackle Karl Winkelman) get healthy and understand that without those guys, we wouldn’t be 7-0.”
Following Freeman’s departure from the game, the Vikings continued the back-and-forth gameplay and scored again at 3:06, taking the lead and bringing the score to 14-7.
The Mustangs, who own an eight-game winning streak dating back to last season, and the Vikings, coming off their largest point total since 1980 a couple weeks ago, appeared set to match each other all night.
“I didn’t expect to blow them out,” Broadous said. “I expected it to be a close game.”
Broadous tied the score at 14 all with a 13-yard rush to end the first quarter, and after Mustangs kicker Bobby Zalud completed a long 49-yard field goal to give Cal Poly a three-point lead, the Vikings would do the exact same, as kicker Zack Brown tied the score at 17 with a 35-yard field goal of his own to end the first half.
“It was a real gridiron old-school football game,” Williams said. “Both teams were eager to play each other and it was a well-fought game. It was all tough football today.”
On a three-field goal, nine-point night for Zalud, the junior kicker put the Mustangs ahead, 20-17, to start the second half.
“Bobby kicked a hell of a game,” Williams said. “He came through for us when we needed those field goal points.”
But the Vikings replied with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Monahan, snatching back the lead.
On the extra point attempt, after Vikings holder Thomas Carter couldn’t hang on to the long snap, he passed to tight end Kalua Noa for the two-point conversion, putting the Vikings up 25-20 with 9:04 left in the third quarter.
“We never put our heads down,” Broadous said. “This year our offense has a lot of confidence. We know that we can score fast and we know that we can score in spurts. We’ve been down a few games, but we always find a way to respond.”
After an unsuccessful possession with no first downs by the Mustangs, Vikings kick returner Keitrell Anderson fumbled Zalud’s 48-yard punt. The Mustangs recovered, and took five rushing plays to come within field goal range. With 4:01 on the third quarter clock, Zalud connected and brought the score to 25-23.
“Andre was ticked off we kicked that field goal,” Walsh said. “I said the ball is going to be in your hands to win this game. That’s the type of guy we have playing quarterback. He is going to will a win.”
In the fourth quarter, Broadous definitely willed it.
Four minutes in, the senior flung an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Willie Tucker, giving the Mustangs a 30-25 lead. Five minutes later, Broadous rushed 1-yard for a touchdown of his own, putting the Mustangs up by 12 points, and bringing the final score to 37-25.
“We played pretty darn good against an explosive offense, and I was very proud of that,” Walsh said. “We made good adjustments and were able to move the ball.”
The victory tonight sustains the Mustangs’ undefeated season, and puts them atop the Football Championship Subdivision with Lehigh as the only two undefeated teams in the nation.
The Mustangs will travel to face off against Big Sky opponent Sacramento State at 6 p.m. next week in hopes of keeping their perfect season alive.
“We’re going to enjoy that we are 7-0 tonight,” Walsh said. “Tomorrow, we’ll start talking about Sacramento State and what we need to do to a very good football team. Hopefully we will be ready for that opportunity when it shows up.”