MISSOULA, Mont. — Sometimes the outcome of a game doesn’t reflect the way the game was played.
That was the case Saturday for Cal Poly.
“I told our team before the game that the team that plays best for the longest period of time will win the game,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “We outplayed them for a longer period of time. It’s tough to look at your team and say, ‘You lost there.’ Because, physically, I don’t think so.”
The Mustangs (3-4, 2-1 Big Sky Conference) controlled time of possession, outgained Montana and converted nearly half of their third downs but still came up short in a 21-14 overtime loss on the road to Montana.
Montana (6-1, 3-1) struck first on a 5-yard scamper by running back Jordan Canada, two plays after electing to stay on the field on fourth down.
The Mustangs answered with a score of their own behind a heavy dose of Kristaan Ivory and Akaninyene Umoh. Taking over on its own 31-yard line, Cal Poly worked its way down the field, throwing only one pass during the nine-play, 69-yard drive, culminating in an Umoh 6-yard touchdown run up the middle.
For the rest of the half the Mustangs’ defense proved dominant, limiting Montana to 54 yards of offense during its final four possessions and surprising the Montana offense with its play.
“They were really fast on defense,” Montana quarterback Jordan Johnson said.
“(Cal Poly) is a very good football team,” Montana head coach Mick Delaney said. “They’re the best team we’ve faced all season, on both sides of the ball.”
With the score tied midway through the second quarter, the Mustangs took over on their own 29-yard line.
Picking up small chunks of yards, the Cal Poly offense found itself in the red zone again after quarterback Dano Graves — who finished the game with 186 yards of total offense — connected with Umoh, placing the ball perfectly between two Montana defenders for a 19-yard diving catch at the Montana 4-yard line. Sticking with Umoh, the Mustangs crossed the goal line again, taking a 14-7 lead they would hold going into halftime.
Montana looked ready to even the score midway through the third quarter.
Facing third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Montana’s Johnson scrambled left out of the pocket and dove for the goal line. Waiting for Johnson was linebacker Nick Dzubnar, who knocked the ball loose, and it was recovered by Mustangs safety Alex Hubbard for a touchback.
With 8:11 left and a one-touchdown lead, the Mustangs assembled a 12-play, 63-yard drive that ate up just under six minutes.
With 2:22 remaining, the Mustangs set up for a 26-yard field goal attempt to put the game out of reach. But kicker Bobby Zalud’s attempt came out low and was blocked by Montana linebacker Jordan Tripp.
With Montana taking over on its own 12-yard line with 2:17 left, Johnson worked his way down the field, finding receivers open for short, easy yards against a Cal Poly defense that brought only three pass rushers and played three safeties deep.
On third-and-5 from the Cal Poly 13-yard line, Mustang cornerback Bijon Samoodi was called for pass interference in the end zone, giving Montana first-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 31 seconds remaining.
After the Cal Poly defense held its ground, Montana was faced with fourth down and only 14 seconds left.
In a shotgun formation, Montana ran play action and found tight end Clay Pierson in the back of the end zone to tie it at 14.
The Mustangs won the overtime coin toss and elected to keep their defense on the field, preferring to know what they would need should Montana score on its first possession.
On the second play of overtime, Johnson found wide receiver Ellis Henderson down the right side of the field. Catching the ball at the 5-yard line, Henderson dove, hitting the pylon for the touchdown.
Then it was Cal Poly’s turn.
Facing third-and-10 from the left hash of the 25-yard line, Graves dropped back and threw it down the middle to the one white jersey surrounded by three Montana players at the goal line. Leaping for the ball was Montana linebacker Brock Coyle, who held onto the pass, landing in the end zone and ending the Mustangs’ chances of a comeback and sealing the Montana victory.
“We just knew what they were going to do,” Coyle said. “I just dropped and saw the ball up in the air and went and got it.”