The Cal Poly football team’s season wasn’t over.
That’s obvious now, after the Mustangs (1-2) pummeled Portland State 42-14 in their home opener Saturday night.
But one more loss, an 0-3 start to the season, that might have been the high sign that this just isn’t Cal Poly’s year. With all that’s gone on with the program — from shocking arrests to offensive impotency — there was little cause for hope.
Complete dominance over the Vikings (1-3) was probably one of the few things that could resuscitate college football in San Luis Obispo.
And it happened.
“This was something that we needed,” Cal Poly junior quarterback Chris Brown said. “I was telling the guys we did this for us and we did this for the school. This is something that our team, Cal Poly, needed today, this win.”
Brown ran 12 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 61 yards and another score. Sophomore slotback Kori Garcia ran for a career-high 103 yards and a touchdown, and senior fullback Brandon Howe had a career high 81 rushing yards and a touchdown to go along with two catches for 29 yards and another score.
Maybe Brown could have passed more. All that really mattered to him was ending the losing streak.
“I was just going into this game with the intention of just wining,” Brown said. That’s what I was focusing on.”
Even backup quarterback Dano Graves got into the act, running for 39 fourth-quarter yards and a 1-yard touchdown of his own.
Every aspect of the Mustangs’ triple-option attack was dangerous.
Eight ball-carriers combined to rush 74 times for 470 yards and five touchdowns, this after averaging just 14 points per game in blowout losses at FBS New Mexico State and No. 10 South Dakota State to start the year.
A little more than midway through the third quarter Saturday, Cal Poly had already doubled its point total for the season, and Portland State seemed unable to stop any of the Mustangs’ three options.
“They have X amount of guys for X amount of area,” Walsh said, “and when you’re getting the ball pitched and getting 11 yards, and Chris Brown’s being electric with his feet, and the middle opens up, we’re going to be awful tough to stop if we continue to play in all three phases of the field.”
What’s that you say? Cal Poly had trouble sustaining drives in either of its first two losses? Included in the Mustangs’ scoring drives Saturday were possessions spanning 88, 87, 85, 80 and 72 yards.
Walsh improved to 6-0 in Cal Poly home openers and 4-0 all-time against the Vikings, a program he coached for 14 years. Three of those victories have come as a member of the Big Sky Conference with the Mustangs each of the past three seasons.
This game happened to be a nonconference affair, but heading into a Big Sky opener at Northern Arizona next Saturday, Cal Poly suddenly feels like a contender in one of the best FCS conferences in the country.
“We wish it was a Big Sky win,” Howe said, “but they’re still in our conference. It wasn’t a conference game, but they’re a conference team, and we really made a statement.”
The biggest statement may have been made on behalf of the defense.
Portland State broke up the shutout with two fourth-quarter touchdown drives as Cal Poly began to utilize its backups, but the Vikings had just 180 yards of total offense in the first three quarters.
They finished with 286 yards of total offense, and only 106 passing yards.
Kieran McDonagh, the last quarterback to pass for 300 yards or more against the Mustangs after throwing for 302 yards and four touchdowns in last season’s matchup, was 9-of-26 passing for 89 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
Portland State didn’t have a rusher gain more than 45 yards, and first-team All-American Kyle Loomis punted nine times.
Frankly, Portland State looked much more potent against Pac-12 opponent Oregon State, even leading the Beavers 14-13 at halftime of an eventual 29-14 loss. The Vikings also lost 59-21 at Washington State, but even in that game, they scored 14 straight points in the third quarter to cut the Cougars’ lead to 28-14.
“For those first three quarters, defensively, I don’t know if we’ve played much better,” Walsh said, “against a team that was explosive against a Pac-12 team.”
And for that, now the season carries on with a newfound rejuvenation.
“Our guys came out and played with a lot of heart and a lot of desire,” Walsh said, “and I think they were excited to be home, too, but I think they knew how important this game was, too.”