Coming into Saturday’s 24-10 loss to Yale, both the Cal Poly football team and the Bulldogs (3-0) were tied atop the FCS leaderboard for fewest turnovers lost.
Each team had just two lost fumbles and interceptions on the season.
Though tied, the Mustangs (2-3) might have had the more impressive mark considering they’d played twice as many games.
But the lofty numbers all came crashing down Saturday.
Cal Poly fumbled away an option pitch on the opening drive, when it appeared the Mustangs were well on their way to a score.
A muffed kick return coupled with a blocking penalty had put Cal Poly on the 6-yard line to start the game, but the Mustangs promptly went 40 yards in seven plays before sophomore quarterback Chris Brown made a late pitch to Kristaan Ivory that went off the mark, to the ground and right to Yale defensive back Cole Champion.
Making the first home start of his career, Brown also threw two interceptions, upping the team’s and his own personal total to three on the year. At least one came forcing a ball into double coverage, and Brown had another near-interception on a bobbled pass that was nearly hauled in by a Bulldogs defender.
“As the game wore on, I think we did get frustrated,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said, “and I think they did some good things that we need to do some better things against, but I don’t think we played with the intensity that we usually play with and the exaction we usually play with.”
Though Yale quarterback Henry Furman also threw an interception, the Bulldogs will remain in a tie for the fewest turnovers lost at worst this week.
Cal Poly could fall out of the top 20.
TUCKER LOST TO KNEE INJURY
When Willie Tucker went down with six minutes left in the second quarter, it seemed as if all eyes were on Cal Poly’s top receiving threat.
After blocking on a 9-yard rush by Cole Stanford, Tucker hit the deck and could be seen clutching his left knee.
After athletic trainers rushed to his side for a spell, Tucker clutched the grass and dragged himself off the field while keeping his lower body lifeless and inert.
The worst fears subsided when Tucker rose from the grass and walked back to the bench under his own power.
He remained with the team on the sideline, but the severity of the injury was not known immediately after the game, Walsh said, and there is no timetable for his return.
Cal Poly did not move the ball much without him, but there was more to blame than the injury, Walsh said. Senior cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson was also injured.
“The bottom line thing is one player doesn’t make or break us,” Walsh said. “We lost some guys today that got hurt, but we have enough guys that we should be able to come back and play well enough for us to win.
“I love Willie Tucker, and he’s one of our best players, but losing him shouldn’t make the decision whether we win or lose.”
Tucker had a team-high 15 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns coming into the game and led the Mustangs with 517 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Brown knows about stepping up in these situations. He started the season as the third-string quarterback before leading a second-half comeback against Fresno State when original starter Vince Moraga was lost for the season with a torn ACL and meniscus and backup Dano Graves was out with a sprained ankle.
“It was tragic seeing that happen,” Brown said, “but at the same time, we still have great players on the side. We still have great receivers that stepped in. Cam Akins came in, and he’s a true freshman and did what he was supposed to do. He tried his best out there. We just want Willie to get healthy, and we just need to come for the next game and get the win with the 11 players on the field.”