PORTLAND, Ore. — Thursday was the third straight game the Cal Poly football team dug a double-digit deficit for itself.
In two losses to FBS programs, the Mustangs had been plagued by slow starts, and the trend continued in a 38-34 win over Portland State in the Big Sky Conference opener — with third-down performance being the difference-maker early on.
From the first drive, the Vikings got exactly what they needed on third-and-long, and Cal Poly struggled to convert when it had the ball.
Portland State running back DJ Adams ran for 15 yards on third-and-5. Adams ran around the left end for 11 yards on third-and-12 and picked up another first down with a 2-yard run on fourth down.
Quarterback Kieran McDonagh ran 43 yards down the left sideline, albeit on first down, but fittingly, running back Justin Lilley scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown on third-and-goal.
On its three third downs, Cal Poly went bust.
In the first quarter, the Vikings were 3 for 5 on third down with one of the two missed conversions still leading to first down. The Mustangs were 0 for 4 on third downs and punted three times for an average of 32.7 yards.
By halftime, Cal Poly was just 3 for 10 on third downs.
INJURIES PILING UP
The Mustangs were without starting slotback Cole Stanford, who did not make the trip after suffering a calf injury late in a 34-17 loss at Colorado State two weeks ago.
Stanford only has five carries for 11 yards this season and was being used as primarily a blocking and receiving back. He is third on the team with six catches for 122 yards, averaging 20.3 per catch.
Since injuring his ankle in training camp, Stanford has been plagued by various issues.
His practice time has been limited all season, but Thursday was the first time he failed to play in a game.
To compensate, fullback Akaninyene Umoh took Stanford’s spot in the slot — a position Umoh has played in season’s past — and Brandon Howe moved into the starting lineup at fullback.
Defensive tackle Chris Lawrence also missed the trip with a leg injury. He was also injured against Colorado State with coaches then fearing a head injury.
Lawrence has 11 tackles, tied for ninth on the team. Senior Barrett Wangara replaced him in the starting lineup with former Pioneer Valley High standout Nick Leyden becoming a key reserve.
Senior guard Lefi Letuligasenoa was a game-time decision with a shoulder injury in the joint he had offseason surgery on, but he ended up healthy enough to play.
BROADOUS SUPPORTS POLY
Former Cal Poly quarterback Andre Broadous made it back to his hometown to spend Thursday’s game on the sideline cheering on his old team.
Broadous, a Portland native and former Oregon state prep offensive player of the year, was the starter for two-plus seasons, breaking the program’s single-season record for rushing touchdowns and leading the Mustangs to the FCS playoffs last season, their first berth since 2008.
Last month, Broadous re-signed with the Tri-Cities Fever of the Indoor Football League. He joined the team late last season and backed up Dante Warren, a former rival from South Dakota.
Broadous will be given the chance to compete with Warren for the starting spot next season, Fever head coach Adam Shackleford said in August.