With the score tied at 14 and Cal Poly with the ball on fourth-and-3 from the Montana State 12-yard line, Kori Garcia took a pitch around the left edge and could have ran untouched into the end zone.
Instead, the Cal Poly sophomore slotback decided to high-step.
The Mustangs were looking to take a touchdown lead into the half and were expecting to receive the second-half kickoff when Garcia’s unsportsmanlike conduct incited the penalty flag that destroyed the Mustangs’ plans of taking a two-score lead on No. 8 Montana State in a 35-27 win at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday.
Officials caught Garcia taunting near the 3-yard line and flagged him as he celebrated ahead of a tackler who wouldn’t have been able to touch Garcia had he not slowed down.
The result: No touchdown, no first down and Cal Poly got moved back to fourth-and-9 at the 18-yard line, where quarterback Chris Brown threw incomplete, and the Bobcats took over with the score still tied.
The NCAA altered its excessive celebration rule in 2011 to allow officials to nullify touchdowns if the interpreted act of taunting occurred before the player crosses the goal line.
Previously, the rule allowed for the penalty yardage to take effect only after the touchdown was scored.
In this case, it took seven potential points away from the Mustangs, and Montana State took advantage.
Instead of finding themselves in a touchdown deficit, the Bobcats hustled down the field
63 yards in 10 plays to set themselves up for the go-ahead score.
Luke Daley hit a 36-yard field goal to give Montana State its first lead of the game, 17-14, with six seconds left in the second quarter.
Bobcats lose top RB early
Montana State running back Shawn Johnson looked to be off to a great start before a noncontact injury took him out of the game in the first quarter.
Johnson had 42 yards on his first two carries, including a 27-yarder. But on that long run, which moved the Bobcats from their own 45-yard line to the Cal Poly 28 as Montana State was looking to erase a 7-0 Cal Poly lead, Johnson pulled up lame.
The senior running back was in the clear and possibly could have made the score-tying touchdown, but he voluntarily ran out of bounds and began grabbing his left hamstring.
The Bobcats tied the score on a 4-yard run by Jayshawn Gates, but Johnson did not return to the game.
Johnson came into the game second on the team in rushing yards and touchdowns behind quarterback Dakota Prukop. He had run 80 times for 527 yards and four touchdowns with a team-leading 6.6 yards per carry.
Nicholls still out
For the second game in a row, Cal Poly was completely without slotback and return man Chris Nicholls who hasn’t played the since the first half of a victory at Sacramento State three weeks ago.
Nicholls’ absence was felt almost immediately.
After Montana State tied the score at 7-7 with 3:17 left in the first quarter, the Bobcats kicked deep to redshirt freshman Kyle Lewis. Lewis was unable to catch the ball cleanly standing on his own goal line and after bobbling it was taken down at the Cal Poly 7-yard line.
The Mustangs drove 93 yards for a touchdown on the ensuing possession, so, the return wasn’t crippling, and Lewis got a measure of redemption, taking his next kick returns 30 yards to the Cal Poly 32.