Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh was asked informally last week when the Mustangs were going to break out the halfback pass.
As it turned out, it didn’t take much longer for offensive coordinator Saga Tuitele to dial up the trick play for the first time this season, a call that became a tiebreaking score in the third quarter of Saturday’s 30-24 victory at Weber State.
Slotback Kori Garcia took a pitch around the right side, pivoted and threw back across the field to quarterback Chris Brown, who sprinted 23 yards up the sideline for a touchdown.
That gave the Mustangs (3-3, 2-1 Big Sky Conference) a 24-17 lead with 5:22 left in the quarter, and it was part of a trio of touchdowns by Brown, who became the first player in Cal Poly Division I program history to pass, catch and run for a touchdown in a single game.
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“It worked,” junior center Stephen Sippel said Tuesday. “It helped us out, the biggest score of the game. Honestly, he keeps impressing me every week. Every week, you see the hits he takes, and he keeps getting up. He’s a big tough guy.
“He’s got some wheels, too, so when he gets out into open space, he can leave some of the defenders in the dust. It’s fun to watch.”
There have been plenty of athletic quarterbacks since the Mustangs moved up from Division II in 1994.
But none have pulled off the Brown trifecta, not Andre Broadous or Jonathan Dally and not Seth Burford or Mike Fisher.
Broadous had an 8-yard catch in 2011 but did not get into the end zone. Burford, who set the program’s single-season passing record with 2,672 yards in 2000 and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2002, had a 45-yard reception in 2001. No touchdown.
Fisher, the Mustangs’ all-time career passing leader with 7,494 yards, had one catch his senior year in 1995, but he didn’t score either.
Dally passed for 4,198 and 52 touchdowns in two seasons as the starter in 2007-08 but did not have the chance to catch a pass.
Still, when Brown added the 23-yard touchdown catch to his earlier 1-yard touchdown plunge and an 11-yard touchdown pass to Garcia, the distinction seemed so commonplace, the Mustangs didn’t give it a second thought on the trip back from Ogden, Utah.
Sippel said he became aware of it only when it was brought up by the media at a news conference Tuesday leading into this week’s game at Sacramento State.
“Chris is the type of athlete where you can do it and feel confident in it,” Walsh said of the halfback pass.
“He’s a triple threat.”
Walsh also revealed that there were discussions last season, when Cal Poly had four quarterbacks competing for playing time about whether to move either Brown or backup Dano Graves to a different skill position to get them on the field.
Coming out of Compton Dominguez High in 2011, Brown was recruited as a defensive back by Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii. His older brother Terrance was a cornerback at Stanford.
But even though he chose Cal Poly over his FBS suitors so he could play quarterback, Brown looked like a natural catching the ball and outracing defenders to the end zone.
The Mustangs had been toying with ways to get Brown out on a pass pattern. Walsh said they just weren’t certain whether Garcia was on the one to get it to him. There are other skill players with quarterback experience on the roster as well.
Perhaps more intriguing is the possibility that Cal Poly had a chance to have two players pull off the same feat in the same game.
Garcia needed only a rushing touchdown to complete the trio, and the Mustangs could have tried to get him one.
After an 18-yard run on a reverse by receiver Kyle Lewis set Cal Poly up with first-and-goal on the 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Mustangs turned to fullback Brandon Howe for another tiebreaking 1-yard touchdown that turned out to be the game winner.
Brown had just carried the ball for 3 yards on first-and-goal. Howe punched it in on second, but it easily could have been Garcia who had his number called.
“That would have been amazing to have two guys,” Walsh said. “I’ll bet that’s never been done in college football, two guys in one day run, catch and throw for a touchdown.
“It would have been different if the score was little bit different, but the reality of the situation was we have to do whatever we can to win the game, and that’s how we went into it.”