LAKE CHARLES, La. — Welcome back Greg Francis.
Cal Poly’s junior safety missed last week’s loss at Texas State. He didn’t even make the trip to San Marcos, Texas, instead staying home with a back injury.
It wasn’t even that long ago that Francis was completely off the roster. He missed all of spring drills while he regained his academic eligibility.
But Francis was in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday night and made one of the pivotal plays in the first half of the No. 20 Mustangs’ 40-14 win over No. 19 McNeese State.
Never miss a local story.
Just moments after Jordan Yocum gave Cal Poly a 17-7 lead with his first touchdown run of the season, Francis came up with his sixth career interception to set up another Mustangs score.
Yocum’s 5-yard run up the middle left 2:16 on the clock for the Cowboys to either make one last-ditch attempt to get points before halftime or to run out the clock before receiving the third-quarter kickoff.
On the second play of a drive that started on the McNeese State 18-yard line, Francis ran right into a pass from Cowboys quarterback Jacob Bower playing zone coverage on the left side.
Francis, who had three interceptions last season, ran up the sideline and cut back on one defender to return the ball 34 yards to the McNeese State 20-yard line.
One minute, 23 seconds later, Cal Poly running back Mark Rodgers took a pitch 4 yards to the left side for his first touchdown of the game, giving the Mustangs a 24-7 lead.
James Langford squibbed a kickoff to the 18-yard line, and with 18 seconds left, the Cowboys kneeled on the ball to head into the half.
ANOTHER MISSED FIELD GOAL
Saturday marked the fourth game in a row that the Mustangs missed their first field goal attempt.
Last week it was kickoff specialist and true freshman Langford missing on a 42-yarder. This time it was senior Jake West, a former Atascadero High standout who also started each of the first two weeks with misses.
After Andre Broadous took Cal Poly to the 21-yard line on the first drive of his first collegiate start, West got the 38-yard attempt high and deep enough but hooked it wide left.
Despite the miss, head coach Tim Walsh gave West a second opportunity to hit a field goal, and with 0.6 seconds left in the first quarter, he got Cal Poly on the board, giving the Mustangs a 3-0 lead by sending a 39-yarder through the uprights.
LIGHTNING CAUSES 30-MINUTE DELAY
Cal Poly took a 38-7 lead on a 22-yard touchdown run by Rodgers with 12:18 left in the third quarter, and after sending his previous two kickoffs at least 5 yards deep in the end zone, Langford did not get a chance to kick the next one right away.
There was a lightning strike visible to someone on the officiating crew, which called for a 30-minute break as rain began to pour.
Both teams left the field, McNeese State to its fieldouse, Cal Poly to an open berm near the south end zone.
After a 47-minute delay, Langford kicked off to the goal line, and Gabriel Umoh tackled McNeese State returner Champlain Babin at the 15-yard line.
On wet footing, Langford slipped in his follow through and missed on a 50-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter.
MUNOZ GOES DOWN AGAIN
Just back from the broken leg and the complications that took him almost a full year to recover from, senior right tackle Art Munoz went down with an apparent arm injury in the first quarter.
Cal Poly was already down two starting offensive linemen, and one other part-time starter was ruled out for the season this week before Munoz came out of a pile favoring his left arm.
He was replaced by senior Lucas Trily, and the Mustangs played the rest of the half with only two first-teamers in the lineup, right guard Will Mitchell and left tackle Scott Winnewisser, who appeared to hurt himself running off the field during the lightning break.
Winewisser was replaced by redshirt freshman Mike Freeman.
AROUND THE FCS
Former Atascadero High and Allan Hancock College standout quarterback Gunnar Jespersen helped lead Central Connecticut State (2-2) to a 41-24 win over Bryant University in the Northeast Conference opener for both teams.
Jespersen was 7-of-13 passing for 174 yards. He also had 108 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Elsewhere, former No. 1-ranked Montana avoided a 1-3 start and its third straight loss by coming back from a four-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Sacramento State 28-25.