The Cal Poly football team turned the ball over four times on Saturday as Yale upset the Mustangs 24-10 in the first meeting between the two schools.
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In its last three games entering Saturday’s contest against Yale, the Cal Poly football team had been outscored in the first half by a combined score of 82-17. The Mustangs found a groove in the second half in each of those contests, two of which came against Football Bowl Subdivision schools, as they outscored the opposition 63-26.
But against their first Ivy League opponent in program history, that trend was turned on its head.
The Mustangs led 10-7 at halftime before getting shut out in the second half as Cal Poly dropped a 24-10 decision to Yale in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
“We came out slow,” sophomore quarterback Chris Brown said. “That’s the repercussions of coming out slow and trying to be a second-half team.”
Instead of the Mustangs finding their characteristic spark in the final two quarters, it was Yale that held the advantage in the second half. But the Mustangs helped Yale get there.
Cal Poly (2-3, 1-0 Big Sky) turned the ball over four times and amassed nine penalties for 91 yards. Two penalties in particular, an unnecessary roughness charge on senior defensive end Andrew Alcaraz and an unsportsmanlike conduct on senior cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson gave Yale (3-0, 1-0 Ivy League) automatic first downs on third-down situations. Those plays eventually led to Yale scoring drives.
“I’ll give a lot of praise to Yale,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “They played a good football game. They played mistake-free and capitalized on all the mistakes that we made — and we made enough. We probably made more than we did all of last season in one game.”
Yale, making only its third trip to California in program history, pulled away with a back-breaking touchdown late in the fourth quarter after Brown’s pass was intercepted near midfield. Brown was also charged with four fumbles on the day — one of which was lost.
“I just played with slow eyes and that was the repercussions of that,” he said. “I should have just trusted my reads a lot more and trusted my eyes.”
Cal Poly looked to be entering the second half on a positive note as senior kicker Bobby Zalud nailed a 53-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. It was his longest made field goal in a Cal Poly uniform and gave the Mustangs their 10-7 advantage at the break.
But in the third quarter, Alcaraz’s penalty led to a Yale field goal while later in the period Smith-Johnson’s miscue helped the Bulldogs tack on seven more points to extend the lead to 17-10.
Brown’s second interception on the day was then cashed in on Yale’s ensuing possession. Quarterback Henry Furman found Chris Smith for a 28-yard touchdown catch with 3:24 left to ice the game. Brown was also picked off on an intended pass to junior wide receiver Willie Tucker on the Yale 6-yard line in the second quarter.
“They didn’t beat us up,” senior defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz said. “We made our own mistakes. I really don’t think they’re the better team, but they played better today.”
Cal Poly’s lone touchdown came in the first quarter when junior fullback Brandon Howe broke out for a 33-yard run up the middle for a score.
An illegal shift penalty late in the third quarter negated a touchdown throw to freshman receiver Cam Akins that would have tied the game at 17.
To pour salt on the wound for Cal Poly, the Mustangs’ leading receiver Tucker went down in the second quarter with an apparent injury. He got up under his own power after several minutes of delay, but was nursing his left knee as he came off the sidelines.
Before being taken out, Tucker was averaging 17 yards per catch on 18 total grabs for the Mustangs.
Cal Poly will try to bounce back next weekend with a Big Sky Conference matchup against Weber State. Kickoff in Alex G. Spanos Stadium is set for 6:05 p.m.
“We don’t lose at home,” Grosz said. “That’s one thing that we always preach and it’ll be interesting to see how some of the young players and some of the old players come back from this week.”