The way both teams had been playing, it would have been easier to predict a low-scoring affair between the Cal Poly and Old Dominion football teams rather than the 50-37 Mustangs win that transpired in Norfolk, Va., on Saturday.
It was high scoring from the opening onside kick by the Monarchs (3-3), and thanks to a late addition to the Cal Poly offensive playbook, the No. 14 Mustangs (4-2) came into it with one of the best weapons to have in a shootout: a no-huddle offense.
Now in its fourth season of running the triple option, Cal Poly is doing some things for the first time this year. Offensive coordinator Bryan Cook introduced a shotgun formation earlier in the year.
Saturday, quarterback Andre Broadous — a sophomore making his third career start — got his first chance to run the no-huddle, which the team had not been practicing for long.
“About three days,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said in a phone interview, “but it’s been a process. It’s been in our mind that at some point in time, we would do that.
“We thought that the last couple of weeks that Andre had prepared himself to be able to deal with that.
“We didn’t want to do it against Fresno because he had enough to think about with their speed and athleticism, but he definitely has gotten his feet wet.”
The timing certainly was fortunate for the Mustangs.
Broadous had his best game passing the ball, throwing for 212 yards, a season high for any Cal Poly quarterback, and two touchdowns on 11-of-14 passes. Broadous also had two rushing scores.
This comes just a week after Broadous was only 3-of-7 passing for 18 yards and a touchdown in a 38-17 loss at Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Fresno State.
Cal Poly hadn’t shown it could pass consistently all season. Coming into the game, the Mustangs ranked 115th out of 117 Football Championship Subdivision teams with just 75.6 passing yards per game.
Old Dominion did not project to have a high-scoring attack either.
Against their two previous toughest opponents of the season, nationally ranked William & Mary and Gardner-Webb, the Monarchs’ offense accounted for only two touchdowns in each game.
Against Cal Poly, which seems to have transferred the injury bug from its offensive line to its defensive backfield, Old Dominion racked up 442 yards of total offense.
The longest scoring drive by either team was an eight-play, 32-yard drive capped by a 31-yard Jake West field goal for Cal Poly that took 3:43 off the clock.
Nine of the 15 scoring drives completed by both teams took less than two minutes to execute.
In relief of starter Jordan Yocum, who was injured on an early kickoff playing special teams, fullback Jake Romanelli had 74 yards on 13 carries and scored the game-clinching touchdown on a 35-yard run with 6:10 left in the fourth quarter.
Cal Poly racked up a season-high 326 rushing yards, but the surprising aspect to the game was still the passing attack, even though the Mustangs didn’t exactly spread the ball around.
Though most of his damage came on a 75-yard, first-quarter touchdown catch, Dominique Johnson had a game-high six catches for 123 yards. He was the only Cal Poly player to haul in more than one pass.
But there were other big contributions in the passing game.
Running back David Mahr, who had a breakout performance with 156 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, had a 28-yard catch stretching at the goal line that set up a short touchdown run by Broadous, giving the Mustangs a 34-20 lead to start the fourth quarter.
And running back Mark Rodgers, who had 46 rushing yards on five touches, caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Broadous to give Cal Poly a 27-14 lead with 5:30 left in the second quarter.
However, Walsh said the passing explosion had a lot to do with the defensive scheme it was facing, not the play-calling.
“It’s based on what they’re doing on defense,” Walsh said. “They do certain things on defense, and I can’t let the secrets out on why we do it, but there’s reasons why we do it and there’s reasons why we don’t do it.
“They were extremely triple-option oriented. Those things allowed us to throw the ball a little bit tonight.”