MISSOULA, Mont. — Making their first starts in Cal Poly uniforms, B.J. Nard and Kevin Griffin knew they were going to be tested.
The Mustangs’ two new starting safeties were challenged early and often Saturday night against a pass-heavy Montana team and quarterback Brady Gustafson.
The 6-foot-7 Gustafson, who torched top-ranked North Dakota State for 434 yards through the air last week, came out firing to the tune of 42 pass attempts in the first half and went into the break with 234 yards and a late touchdown.
The momentum was short-lived, however, and Gustafson was held to 12 for 22 passing in the second half for 119 yards and two of his three interceptions.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how they responded to some adversity tonight,” seventh-year head coach Tim Walsh said. “They kept battling and they kept playing against a very potent offense.”
Nard finished with six tackles and three interceptions in his first college game. The Bakersfield native redshirted in 2012 and missed the entire 2013 and 2014 seasons because of a knee injury.
His counterpart, Griffin, also made his Mustangs debut.
The sophomore transfer from Washington State — one of a handful of FBS teams upset by FCS opponents on Saturday — made six tackles of his own. Coupled with Chris Fletcher’s 10 tackles and Karlton Dennis’ five, Cal Poly’s secondary accounted for 27 tackles, three interceptions and allowed one touchdown.
“We’re used to playing at a very fast pace on both sides of the ball,” Walsh said. “They ran
50-something plays in the first half. I said, ‘Good, you got to play 56 football plays. That’s pretty cool. Let’s play 56 more.’ ”
Protheroe, Brown pace option attack
Sophomore fullback Joe Protheroe made it clear he’s capable of replacing the production vacated by the graduation of 900-yard rusher Brandon Howe.
Protheroe used a game-high 29 carries to rush for 112 yards, averaging a hard earned 3.9 yards per rush.
Brown picked up right where he left off in that regard as well, carrying the ball 24 times for a game-high 130 yards and a 60-yard touchdown. It was the eighth 100-yard rushing performance of Brown’s career and his 26th rushing touchdown.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback was at his best late in the fourth quarter, when he helped the offense get into field goal range and set up Alex Vega’s game-winning 49-yard kick.
Brown completed a couple short passes to Roland Jackson and Jordan Hines, and got the ball to Kori Garcia on two timely pitches in the closing seconds. It all added up to 330 rushing yards on 76 carries for the Mustangs, a 4.3-yard average.
“The guys came through strong,” said Brown, who was 4 for 12 for 56 yards and a touchdown. “The o-line, they held up and I couldn’t be more excited for them.”