CHENEY, Wa. — The shootout happened again. But it seemed like every time the Cal Poly football team went in for a kill, the Mustangs loaded a blank.
Eastern Washington held up its end of the bargain in a 34-17 victory. No. 16 Cal Poly made too many mistakes in crucial situations to keep up this time.
The No. 7 Eagles (7-2, 5-1 Big Sky) racked up a season-high 542 yards, scoring almost at will and much resembling the offense that took a 53-51 triple overtime victory in San Luis Obispo last year.
That game was 35-35 at the end of regulation. Had the Mustangs been in that range, they might have forced another overtime classic this season.
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Instead, the Eagles limited Cal Poly to its lowest scoring output of the season, allowing their own offense to outgain the third-leading rushing team in the country on the ground. And a team that started the season 7-0 is now on a two-game losing streak after last week’s 35-29 loss at Sacramento State.
“We limited ourselves a little bit, too,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “Give their defense credit. They played better than they did a year ago, but I actually think we moved the ball well.”
The Mustangs did gain ground fairly well in the middle of the field, but they had lots of trouble converting scores.
They fumbled the ball away inside the 30. They threw an interception in the red zone to end the half. They turned the ball over on downs within spitting distance of the end zone.
Trying to keep up with an offense that scored on five of its first seven first-half possessions, the key mistakes were brutal.
Set to receive the ball to open the second half and trailing 24-10, Cal Poly had a chance to stay in the game with a touchdown drive with 2:07 left, but after moving from their own 25-yard line to the 24 of the Eagles, a holding penalty forced Mustangs quarterback Andre Broadous to pass on fourth and 11.
Cal Poly knew it needed more than a field goal to keep pace. Instead, Broadous’ pass was tipped by Mustangs receiver Willie Tucker and intercepted by Eastern Washington safety Jordan Tonani.
The first drive of the second half was similarly crippled by a false start. The later drive where Broadous was stopped short on a fourth-and-goal keeper inside the 1 was also set back by a false start just two plays earlier.
Another Mustangs possession was hit with a drive-killing 15-yard penalty for an illegal block.
Cal Poly had only six penalties for 45 yards compared to nine flags for 71 yards against Eastern Washington, but every Mustangs penalty seemed to come in crucial situations.
“Early on, we moved the ball well,” said Broadous, who was 10-of-18 passing for 129 yards and a touchdown and ran 18 times for 41 yards. “We executed well on some things. Then we had a lot of penalties again, and in our offense, you can’t have any penalties really in order to make it a successful job.
“We fought back a lot of times throughout the year after penalties, but this game and the last game, those penalties will hurt you when you’re playing somebody good. Against other teams, it didn’t really hurt us.
In a nonconference matchup that might mean more in the minds of pollsters and playoff selection committees than the Big Sky standings, Eastern Washington showed why it deserved the No. 1 ranking it held just two weeks ago.
Cal Poly only served up fodder for the voters who were skeptical of the Mustangs’ 7-0 start, which helped keep them out of the top 10 in the two major polls despite the early success.
Vernon Adams passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns, hitting Brandon Kaufman four times for 88 yards and two scores. Greg Herd had four catches for 74 yards and an impressive one-handed 28-yard touchdown catch. Nicholas Edwards had a team-high five catches for 55 yards.
“Don’t take anything from Vernon Adams,” Walsh said. “He’s a real good player, but those wideouts are special, and they made some special plays today. I give those guys a lot of credit for who they are, and I think their offensive line is a lot better than we anticipated. So that makes them a pretty potent offense.”
That success with the pass helped open up lanes for the Eagles’ running attack. Demetrius Bronson had 82 yards and a touchdown. Quincy Forte added 83 yards. Eastern Washington’s 254 yards was 3 more than the total of Cal Poly, which was averaging 323.4 yards per game on the ground.
Deonte Williams led the Mustangs with 100 yards on 20 carries, the seventh time this season he has had 100 yards or more. Kristaan Ivory added a career-high 94 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushing attempts.
Ivory also had a 31-yard pass to Tucker, who had a season-high five catches for 75 yards but saw his four-game streak of touchdown receptions end.
Brandon Michalkiewicz had three catches for 43 yards, almost all of it coming on a wide-open 40-yard touchdown pass with 2:26 left that was merely a speed bump on the clock’s way to winding down to zero.
“Their defense, they tried to keep the big play away,” said Broadous. “They relied on their offense. They knew their offense could score, so they were content with us getting 15-play drives. They just wanted to keep the ball in front, and they did a good job at that.”