Cal Poly

Cal Poly takes nationally ranked Montana State to OT after thrilling comeback

Cal Poly quarterback Jalen Hamler rolls out for a pass Saturday against Montana State at Alex Spanos Stadium.
Cal Poly quarterback Jalen Hamler rolls out for a pass Saturday against Montana State at Alex Spanos Stadium. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

History tends to repeat itself. It almost did Saturday night as Cal Poly faced No. 7-ranked Montana State in a Big Sky Conference game.

The last time Montana State and Cal Poly played in San Luis Obispo was 2014 when the Mustangs upset then No. 8 Bobcats 35-27.

This time however, the Mustangs fell in overtime 34-28 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium after squandering a goal-line opportunity and missing two field goals.

In the end, a comeback by Cal Poly to send the game to overtime resulted in heartbreak after a missed field goal and then game-winning touchdown by Montana State on the next possession to seal the Mustangs’ fate.

Cal Poly QB leads the comeback

But the Mustangs displayed some fight before experiencing the agony of a potential victory falling through their fingertips

Cal Poly (2-3, 1-1) roared back from a 21-point deficit to tie the score at 28-28.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Jalen Hamler had two passing touchdowns and rushed for another, and Drew Hernandez scored his first collegiate touchdown.

Fullback Duy Tran-Sampson and Hamler combined for 172 rushing yards on 61 combined touches.

“It’s a woulda, coulda, shoulda game,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “We kind of played like that against Weber (41-24 loss), where we had 10-minute spurts in the game that just cost us the opportunity to win games.

“If (Montana State is) all that, maybe we’re not bad either.”

Cal Poly attempted to keep the Bobcats’ uptempo offense off the field to start the game, with a 20-play drive that lasted 11:40 and resulted in a 26-yard touchdown pass from Hamler to J.J. Koski, giving the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.

But Montana State (5-1, 2-0) quickly answered with a score of their own, and after Cal Poly was forced to punt, the Bobcats tried to beat Cal Poly at its own game. Montana State scored on a quarterback sneak with 1:29 left in the second quarter after a nearly six-minute drive, leaving the Mustangs with virtually no time to respond before the half.

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Cal Poly defenders Matt Shotwell (42) and Kitu Humphrey (8) tackle Montana State’s quarterback Tucker Rovig on Saturday at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

In the opening drive of the second half, Cal Poly advanced to the Bobcats 5-yard line and went backwards from there. The resulting field goal attempt of 32 yards was missed.

The squandered opportunity didn’t end up hurting the Mustangs at first, as they forced a three and out on the ensuing series. But after another stalled drive, Montana State’s Logan Jones rumbled for a 4-yard touchdown run and a 21-7 lead.

Another Cal Poly punt led to a quick Montana State touchdown after quarterback Tucker Rovig hit Travis Jonsen for a 51-yard completion to the Cal Poly 13-yard line. Jonsen took it in from there on a run to give Montana State a 28-7 lead with 31 seconds left in the third quarter.

Overtime ends badly for Cal Poly

As the second half wore on, the Mustangs were forced to throw, and Hamler initially wasn’t afforded the time in the pocket to do so. Go-to receiver Koski was double covered, and Hamler was busy dodging free rushers off the edge.

But late in the third, Hamler was afforded more of a pocket and found the open man, Quentin Harrison, who was single covered. Harrison had back-to-back catches for 52 total yards and a touchdown to end the third and start the fourth, including a 31-yard touchdown reception to cut Montana State’s lead to 28-14.

“That’s the thing, J.J. Koski, great receiver. They’re going to try to double him,” Hamler said. “I have to be more aware of stuff like that.

“But Quentin Harrison is a great receiver, as well. I don’t know why teams don’t pay close attention to him either. He’s a nice weapon.”

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Cal Poly hosts Montana State at Alex Spanos Stadium, Saturday, October 5, 2019. Cal Poly’s Litu Humphrey attempts to stop Montana’s Kevin Kassis. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Hamler scored a touchdown on a fourth-down keeper from a yard out to make it 28-21 with 10:28 left in the fourth. The defense rose to the occasion again, as Carter Nichols picked off Rovig on third and long, returning the ball to the 16. On fourth and inches, Hamler forced the Bobcats offside, and Drew Hernandez scored on a pitch from 4 yards out to tie the score with 2:27 left in the game.

Cal Poly had the first possession in overtime, and didn’t do much of anything after three rushing attempts, with a penalty thrown in, to set up a 48-yard field goal attempt to salvage the possession. Colton Theaker missed it, and Montana State took advantage.

Jonsen slashed the Cal Poly defense with three straight rushed, the last a 9-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation to secure the victory.

What’s next for Cal Poly

The Mustangs travel to face rival UC Davis next Saturday in a 4:05 p.m. battle for the Golden Horseshoe.

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