With less than five minutes remaining in the first half of Cal Poly’s 35-33 upset win over Montana at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday, the Mustangs were only 3 yards away from going into the half leading the No. 1 team in the country by a touchdown.
With the help of a few penalties against the Grizzlies, the Cal Poly offense found itself with a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line and the score knotted at 14.
On the prior play, Mustangs quarterback Tony Smith converted a fourth-and-5 from the 28-yard line by hitting senior receiver Dominique Johnson on a play-action pass for a 22-yard gain.
The gain was aided by a targeting penalty against Montana, the Grizzlies second such penalty of the drive. Montana was called twice for targeting, the act of using the crown of your helmet to spear an opponent to make a tackle.
The Grizzlies were also hit with their second roughing-the-passer penalty on the same drive.
But even with all the help, Smith fumbled the ball away diving ahead on an option keeper on first-and-goal. The Grizzlies recovered with 4:54 left in the half, drove to the Cal Poly 48-yard line but eventually had to punt away possession in the final minute.
The Mustangs took a knee to ensure the deadlock going into the third quarter.
Smith gets the start after head injury
As late as Wednesday, Cal Poly’s quarterbacking situation was still up in the air. Sophomore Andre Broadous was practicing as the starter while Smith awaited doctor’s clearance following a head injury he suffered in the Mustangs’ next-to-last drive of a 23-17 win over Humboldt State last week.
Smith finally got his clearance Wednesday, and coaches began to devise their plan for the position following the morning practice at the Upper Sports Complex.
A game-time decision, Smith started and scored on a 26-yard touchdown run on Cal Poly’s first drive.
Smith had a scary moment in the second quarter when his helmet was knocked off on a first-down scramble.
He remained on the ground for a few moments as trainers rushed out to evaluate him, but Smith bounced up, shook off the training staff and continued to lead the drive.
The hit that knocked off his helmet resulted in the first of the two targeting penalties.
First-half flags cripple Montana
With the crowning penalties, the two roughing-the-passer flags and a delay of game that pushed the Grizzlies out of field goal range, Montana continually shot itself in the foot.
The Grizzlies were tagged for eight penalties in the first half alone for 72 yards.
Conversely, Cal Poly was not penalized in the first half.
Revenge of Sambrano
Cal Poly cornerback Asa Jackson picked up his first interception of the season, grabbing a tipped ball by Montana receiver Jabin Sambrano over the middle to stop the Grizzlies’ second drive of the game.
But it wasn’t the last the Mustangs would hear from Sambrano.
On the very next drive, the junior hauled in a deep ball around the Cal Poly 40-yard line, shook a defender and outran the Mustangs’ secondary for what ended up as a 72-yard touchdown catch.
Adding another long catch after hooking Jackson on a double move, Sambrano ended the first half with four catches for 138 yards.
Elsewhere in the FCS
Former Atascadero High and Allan Hancock College standout Gunnar Jespersen led Central Connecticut State to a 45-14 win over Bentley to even the Blue Devils’ record at 1-1.
It was the first win as a Football Championship Subdivision college quarterback for Jespersen, who passed for 181 yards and two touchdowns on 18 of 24 attempts and also rushed for 41 yards.
In two games this season, the former Greyhound has passed for 310 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and has rushed for 71 yards.
Texas State, who will be the first of five straight road opponents for Cal Poly next week, beat Division II Southern Arkansas 31-17 at home on Saturday.