GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Chalk up another comeback win for the Cal Poly football team.
A week after erasing a 10-point deficit against rival UC Davis, the No. 23-ranked Mustangs used a fourth-quarter rally to spoil North Dakota’s Big Sky Conference home debut before 9,531 fans Saturday at the Alerus Center with a 35-17 win.
“You have to be able to win on the road,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “And give North Dakota credit, they have a win on the road. Then you have to protect your home turf. We knew we had to make some big plays, and that was probably the difference. We made some big plays on both sides of the ball.”
Fifth-year senior quarterback Marcus Hendrickson helped North Dakota gain a 17-14 fourth-quarter lead with an accurate arm and nimble feet.
Hendrickson, who was thrust into the starting job when regular starter Braden Hanson went down with an injury during the first game of the year, helped engineer a 12-play, 78-yard scoring drive to give North Dakota its first lead of the game.
Hendrickson was 4 of 5 for 64 passing yards on the drive, and he raced around the left corner from 2 yards out to make the score 17-14 with 13:25 remaining.
“They did a good job on defense, and they kind of picked up on some of our plays,” Cal Poly quarterback Andre Broadous said. “We knew that we had to get a score to open up the game. And our offensive line did a good job opening things up. I think the defense kind of knew what we were running. But it was all mental toughness.”
The Mustangs answered quickly.
On the opening play following Hendrickson’s score, Cole Stanford reeled off a 65-yard run to again put Cal Poly in scoring position.
Broadous plunged in from the 3-yard line to put the Mustangs ahead 21-17.
“You have momentum, the building comes alive, and that (65-yard run) is a quick way to get deflated,” North Dakota head coach Chris Mussman said. “Bottom line is that you can’t turn the ball over four times. We threw two picks and lost two fumbles. Fourth quarter we had the lead, and to watch it fall apart like that wasn’t a lot of fun.”
Things got weird in the fourth.
Cal Poly (4-0, 2-0 Big Sky) stopped a run on a fake punt on fourth down but handed the ball back to North Dakota on the very next play from scrimmage on a Akaninyene Umoh fumble.
The Mustangs later blocked a 54-yard field goal attempt and turned it into 28-17 lead when Broadous crossed the goal line with 3:54 on the clock.
“We had it and we just let it go through our fingers,” North Dakota senior running back Mitch Sutton said. “We had momentum going in (to the fourth quarter). But turnovers, and that punt — things just kept going south for us and we couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole.”
Cal Poly limited the North Dakota offense, which for much of the season had been firing on all cylinders, to only a handful of big plays.
The Mustangs’ running game was effective again, piling up 321 yards on 56 carries.
Senior Deonte Williams led Cal Poly with 125 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Stanford had 90 yards on five carries, and Umoh carried the ball 14 times for 76 yards.
The Mustangs defense, which allowed 409 total yards to North Dakota, came up big in almost every big situation down the stretch to seal the win.
The day was capped by an interception by Nico Molino in the end zone with just a few seconds remaining.Cal Poly looks to win its sixth game in a row dating back to last season when it travels to Weber State on Friday.
“We did it to UC Davis and we did it against Wyoming,” Walsh said of his team’s comebacks this year. “We have to believe we can do it, and we understand the game is four quarters long. That is probably the most important thing.”