The Cal Poly offense broke out of its offensive slump Saturday against No. 21 Northern Iowa, scoring five touchdowns and racking up 543 yards of offense inside the UNI Dome in Cedar Falls.
But the familiar early-season theme of untimely turnovers and big plays from the opposition proved too much for the Mustangs offense to overcome in an overtime thriller. Northern Iowa quarterback Eli Dunne threw for the game-winning touchdown on the first overtime possession to cap a sparkling 325-yard, four-touchdowns performance to send the Panthers to a 45-38 win.
“We have played all year long with tremendous effort and passion, and it is unfortunate that we are making some mistakes that are costing us opportunities to win the games. And we did that again tonight,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said.
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Comeback Falls Short
Junior Khaleel Jenkins had his breakout game as Cal Poly’s starting quarterback, and he saved his best stuff for the fourth quarter.
After scoring on a run the previous drive, Cal Poly got the ball back trailing 38-31 with one minute left on clock, 91 yards to go and no timeouts. Jenkins then led Cal Poly on a six-play drive that ended with a 52-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Lewis to tie the game and force overtime.
After Dunne hit Daurice Fountain for a touchdown on the first possession of overtime, Jenkins had one last shot to send it to a second OT, but his pass flew over the head of Lewis to end the game.
Early in the game, Jenkins tossed a pair perfectly placed touchdown passes to wide receiver J.J. Koski and another to Lewis. The 44-yard touchdown pass to Lewis on the first Cal Poly drive opened the scoring. Then the teams traded touchdowns. Koski’s 34-yard touchdown catch tied the score at 14-14, and his second touchdown, a 35-yard touchdown catch with 47 seconds to go in the second quarter, tied the game at 21-21.
Coming into Saturday’s game, Cal Poly junior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins had thrown for 122 yards and one touchdown in the first two outings of the season. He more than doubled that with 143 yards passing and three touchdowns in the first half against Northern Iowa. He went 9-of-16 for 238 yards passing and five total touchdowns in total. It was the most passing yards by a Cal Poly quarterback since at least 2009.
Turnovers and Penalties
As well as Jenkins threw the ball in the first half, it was two turnovers on pitch attempts that killed the Mustangs momentum.
The second fumble came when Jenkins was in the legs as he attempted a pitch in the second quarter. The ball was too low for running back Chuby Dunu, and UNI scooped it up and returned it 48 yards for the touchdown to go up 14-7.
“Our battle and who we are and all that stuff at some point is going to pay off with some good wins for us, but right now it’s tough to deal with because a lot of the points we give up now are self-inflicted,” Walsh said. “Overall (Jenkins) played well, but those two fumbles were crucial.”
Cal Poly also had 10 penalties in the game for 100 yards (UNI had 11 for 120). On its overtime possession, Cal Poly had two false starts that backed up the offense and forced Jenkins to try to convert on a fourth and 19.
Cal Poly grabbed the momentum with the long Koski touchdown to tie it at 21-21 with 47 seconds left. But UNI snatched it right back with a six-play, 63-yard touchdown drive to go back up 28-21.
Walsh also brought up UNI’s first touchdown of the game. Early in the second quarter, UNI running back Trevor Allen looked to be stopped at the line of scrimmage, but he somehow manged to slip out of a tackle and scamper 52 yards for the score to tie the game at 7-7.
“The thing I am most disappointed with on the defensive side of the ball is we didn’t tackle well,” Walsh said.
Cal Poly (0-3) has a bye next week before beginning Big Sky Conference play at home against Northern Arizona at home Sept. 23.