NORFOLK, Va. — In traveling to the East Coast to face Old Dominion on Saturday, Cal Poly had a five-hour layover in the Dallas airport Thursday afternoon.
“Dominique Johnson told me that all he thought about during that layover was all the catches he was going to have this week,” Mustangs coach Tim Walsh said.
OK, Walsh grinned and quickly admitted to making that up. Johnson was like most of the players, lamenting a travel day that lasted 14 hours.
But at least he had pleasant thoughts packed away for the trip home.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound receiver caught six passes for 124 yards and a touchdown as Cal Poly exploded for 538 yards of offense in a 50-37 victory in front of a soldout crowd of 19,782 at Foreman Field.
The No. 14 Mustangs (4-2) rushed for 326 yards. No surprise since they came in ranked eighth in the FCS in rushing yards per game.
But Johnson’s big night — he hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass from Andre Broadous midway through the first quarter as the Mustangs took an early 17-7 lead — was part of the reason Cal Poly’s slotbacks had so much room to run on the edges.
It was Johnson’s most meaningful game since his 13-catch, five-TD, 273-yard performance against South Dakota last season.
“I thought we game planned them pretty well,” said Johnson, who found himself in man-to-man coverage much of the night. “We got a lot of what we expected to get.”
Add to that a new wrinkle from the Mustangs — they called audibles for the first time all season — and Cal Poly was an offensive dynamo.
On more than one occasion, Cal Poly’s skill players were looking at their wristbands for plays that were being called in from the sideline as the play clock ran down.
“We’d wanted to do that against Fresno State last week but weren’t able to,” Walsh said.
One of those audibles resulted in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Broadous to Mark Rodgers as the Mustangs took a 27-20 lead into the half.
As high-scoring as this game was — there were 980 total yards of offense between the teams — the third quarter saw no points, but it did see the Mustangs set themselves up for a touchdown that gave them a grip on the eventual outcome.
Broadous scored on a 2-yard run to open the fourth quarter after hitting David Mahr on a 28-yard strike on a skinny post route to set up the score, giving Cal Poly a 34-20 lead.
The Mustangs needed every point they could get to hold off a young Old Dominion squad willing to gamble right from the start.
Old Dominion, playing only its second season of football, opened the game with a pooch kickoff that the Monarchs recovered. Five plays later they were in the end zone on a 10-yard run by Desmond Williams, sending the home crowd into an early frenzy. Old Dominion has sold out all 11 of its games since starting its program last season.
Cal Poly answered quickly, however, when Mahr broke off a 63-yard run that set up one of Jake West’s three field goals.
“I challenged David this week to become more of a playmaker,” Walsh said. “He might not be the fastest out there, but he’s a darn fine football player.”
Mahr carried 11 times for a game-high 156 yards.
Cal Poly ended up scoring 20 unanswered points after Old Dominion’s opening touchdown, then did its best to match Old Dominion touchdown for touchdown the rest of the way. And the Mustangs had to keep producing because Old Dominion quarterback Thomas DeMarco kept flinging it. DeMarco finished with 327 yards passing, connecting on 28 of 57 attempts.
The Mustangs picked him off twice, however, with Nico Molino intercepting a pass in the first quarter and Kenny Jackson coming up with a ball that was deflected at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter.
The defensive play of the game, however, came with DeMarco scrambling in the fourth quarter on fourth-and-10. Just when it looked like he might get the first down near midfield, Marty Mohamed stopped him, stripped him of the ball and recovered the fumble.
After a deadball personal foul penalty on the Monarchs, Jake Romanelli rambled 35 yards on the next play to give Cal Poly a 50-30 cushion.