FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — With only four possessions in the first half of Saturday’s 38-35 loss against Northern Arizona, the Cal Poly football team scored touchdowns on three of them.
The Mustangs were 7 yards away from a fourth score, but quarterback Chris Brown threw an ill-advised pass that was easily intercepted by the Lumberjacks.
With the score tied at 14 in the final six minutes of the first half and looking for slotback Kori Garcia in the left flat, Brown’s pass on third-and-goal from the 7-yard line went into the arms of Northern Arizona strong safety Shawn Sharkey, who was standing near the goal line.
Sharkey returned the ball to the Lumberjacks’ 22-yard line, and the Northern Arizona offense drove to the Cal Poly 2-yard line. The Mustangs defense held up in an intense goal-line stand, but the Lumberjacks were able to take their first lead of the game on a 19-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Hawkins.
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At that point, Cal Poly stormed right back to take the lead on a 9-yard touchdown run by Chris Nicholls, going 75 yards on seven plays in only 1:24 late in the second quarter.
MORE ON THAT DEFENSIVE STAND
After the interception, Northern Arizona took only two plays to go from its own 22 to the Cal Poly 19-yard line.
Two plays after that, the Lumberjacks were at the Mustangs’ 2-yard line, looking to take a touchdown lead, but that was as close as they’d get.
Cal Poly senior linebacker Cameron Ontko burst through the line to drill Northern Arizona running back Casey Jahn for a 2-yard loss, and sophomore defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen brought down Jahn at the 2-yard line on third-and-goal.
Perhaps wary of the Cal Poly defensive front, the Lumberjacks opted for the short field goal and made the 19-yarder to take a 17-14 lead with 3:28 left, plenty of time, as it turned out, for the Mustangs to retake the lead before the half.
MORE ON THAT 2-MINUTE DRILL
Proving that its offense can move down the field in a hurry, Cal Poly took over at its own 25 with 3:46 left in the first half and promptly scored a touchdown.
More surprisingly, there was only one pass play on the drive — a 9-yard pass to Nicholls — and there wasn’t a trick play among the seven snaps it took to get into the end zone.
Among the big gainers, Brown had runs of 20, 13 and 8 yards, Brandon Howe had a 23-yard run, and Kori Garcia ran for 8 yards.
TEMPLETON’S BERRY GOES DOWN
Redshirt freshman left guard Ross Berry got the first start of his collegiate career Saturday, giving the Cal Poly offensive line plenty of North County flavor.
Along with Atascadero product Weston Walker, the former Templeton High standout made it two San Luis Obispo County natives on the starting unit.
But on the first possession of the third quarter and the Mustangs driving in Northern Arizona territory, Berry stayed crumpled on the field after a run up the middle.
He appeared to suffer a leg injury, and athletic trainers removed the shoe from his right foot. Berry was eventually loaded onto a stretcher and left the stadium in an ambulance.
STOKES BACK TO PUNT
Another former local standout also made a collegiate debut of sorts.
Former Paso Robles High receiver and Tribune County Player of the Year Elias Stokes, now a sophomore slotback for the Mustangs, took his first turns as a collegiate punter.
Though Cal Poly did not punt until the third quarter, Stokes stepped right in and lifted his first attempt 40 yards in the air, and it was fair caught by Northern Arizona return man Eddie Horn. Stokes, who also punted for the Bearcats, did even better on his second punt, a 43-yarder that was also fair caught.