The Cal Poly football team has been by plagued by slow starts for the past two weeks.
In a Big Sky Conference matchup against North Dakota on Saturday, the Mustangs put their early-game struggles to rest. Instead, it was the second half that ultimately gave Cal Poly a 30-26 loss — its third straight.
Colton Theaker hit a 25-yard field goal on the Mustangs’ first drive, and they went on to score on three of their four first half drives to lead 17-7 at the half.
In Cal Poly’s previous two Big Sky Conference games, it allowed Montana State and UC Davis to stake insurmountable leads in the first half, despite furious comebacks in the second half of each game.
The game counted as a Big Sky Conference match up for Cal Poly, but not for North Dakota, a former Big Sky member and current NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision independent.
Cal Poly’s efficient offense
In the first half, Cal Poly quarterback Jalen Hamler was 6 for 6 for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Mustangs were 2 for 2 on fourth down, avoiding many of the long-yardage situations that have stalled drives earlier this year.
Cal Poly had 174 rushing yards on 32 attempts in the first half.
The second half success did not continue as the Mustangs opened the second half with a three-and-out. Duy Tran-Sampson scored on a run from 2 yards out on the next drive, and Theaker hit a 42-yard field goal.
Tran-Sampson finished the game with 40 carries for 173 yards and a touchdown. It was the third time this season that Tran-Sampson has rushed for over 100 yards. The Division I record at Cal Poly for rushes in a game is 43, set by Joe Protheroe.
But the Mustangs were unable to put the game away, scoring just nine second-half points.
“We’re not going to be a team that beats people 56-6,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “We’re going to be a team that has to win close games. We’ve got to find a way to win close games.
“We’re not finding ways to win them — we’re actually finding ways to maybe give them an opportunity to beat us.”
Fighting Hawks stay in game
The Fighting Hawks kept it close, scoring twice in the third quarter. Quarterback Nate Ketteringham finished the game 20 of 30 for 234 yards and a touchdown. Ketteringham also had a rushing touchdown.
Ketteringham’s biggest completion came on a fourth down, when he found Alex Cloyd for a 39-yard score with 1:49 left in the game. Cloyd leaked out of the backfield on a play-action and was unmarked.
“We make too many mistakes that cost us games,” Walsh said. “That’s really the difference tonight. They made less mistakes than we made.
“Even though we dominated the first half. They got zero points out of three possessions. ”
Cal Poly was unable to convert on fourth down — after converting the previous four times — to all but end the game with 47 seconds remaining.
North Dakota running back James Johannsesson had 13 carries for 82 yards and a touchdown.
The Mustangs (2-5, 1-3) will play host to red-hot Sacramento State (5-2, 3-0). The Hornets have wins against two ranked opponents, Montana State and Eastern Washington.