In a way, it was fitting that Karlton Dennis was the one who made the game-
clinching play for the Cal Poly football team in Saturday’s 35-27 victory over No. 8 Montana State.
The junior cornerback intercepted a fourth-down pass at the Mustangs’ 2-yard line to protect an 8-point lead with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter, allowing the offense to run out the clock.
It was the fourth straight game Cal Poly has held an opponent to 27 or fewer points.
Dennis epitomizes Cal Poly’s recent defensive surge, considering he was a defensive back the opposition picked on earlier in the season.
In a 44-18 loss at South Dakota State in the second game of the year, Dennis was burned for a couple big plays, and Mustangs coaches sent him to the bench to help him refocus.
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“He’s such an intense young guy that he just got so down on himself when somebody caught a ball on him,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “He sometimes plays afraid to make a play. He’s just maturing.”
Dennis has rebounded in a big way. His three interceptions lead the team, and he’s back to making aggressive plays. Being listed at 5-foot-10, he’s challenging taller receivers when they might have gotten the better of him earlier in the season.
The big improvement, Walsh said, has been mental.
“It’s how you respond to those things,” Walsh said. “He just understands how to play the position better in a good, competitive way. He’s probably not going to shut every guy down that he plays against, and the plays that aren’t man to man, I think he understand the coverage better.
“He does a great job accepting coaching. The big thing is his confidence has just gone up. The more he plays, the more he feels comfortable.”
• With 98 rushing yards on Saturday, Cal Poly quarterback Chris Brown upped his season total to 953, which ranks second in the Big Sky Conference behind Idaho State running back Xavier Finney. Brown is the top rusher among Big Sky quarterbacks and is only 107 yards away from breaking the conference record for rushing yardage by a quarterback. Former Portland State quarterback Connor Cavanaugh had 1,060 yards in 2011.
• Mustangs senior linebacker Nick Dzubnar had 18 tackles on Saturday and remains on pace to set Cal Poly’s single-season tackle record. Dzubnar has 127 total tackles and needs just 32 to pass former Buck Buchanan Award-winner Kyle Shotwell, who set the mark in 2005.
Dzubnar’s 374 career tackles are third all-time at Cal Poly. Dzubnar is on pace to pass Shotwell (392) for second but is unlikely to catch another Buck Buchanan-winner, Jordan Beck, who had 449 tackles from 2001-04.
• Saturday’s victory was the 300th in Mustangs program history, which dates back to 1915 when Cal Poly was still a two-year institution. This season, the Mustangs are 4-0 at home, and in his sixth season as head coach, Walsh’s home record improved to 23-6 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.