True freshman quarterback Khaleel Jenkins made the first start of his college career and delivered a strong performance in the Cal Poly football team’s 38-35 loss to No. 14-ranked Portland State in a Big Sky Conference football game Saturday night.
A sellout crowd of 11,075 looked on at Alex G. Spanos Stadium as Jonathan Gonzales make 27-yard field goal with 33 seconds left, sending the Mustangs to their fourth loss in the last five games. Cal Poly dropped to 2-5 overall and 1-3 against conference opponents with four regular season games remaining.
Jenkins came out of his redshirt year to start in place of the injured Chris Brown and finished the game with 93 yards rushing and one touchdown. The Mustangs held several statistical advantages over the Vikings (6-1, 3-1 Big Sky), including a 420-154 edge in rushing yards and a 536-386 lead in total yards. They converted 27 first downs and held possession for more than 35 minutes, but four turnovers and a handful of other miscues proved to be too much to overcome.
“Our offensive line played really well,” Jenkins said. “We played as well as a whole unit, honestly, we just hurt ourselves with some bad turnovers. Against a great team like that, you can’t turn the ball over and expect to win.
“It was tough.”
New look at QB: Jenkins had a standout prep career at San Diego’s Francis Parker High. He rushed for 2,233 yards and 32 touchdowns and passed for 2,488 yards and 25 scores during his four-year varsity career.
Making his first appearance in a Cal Poly uniform against the Vikings, Jenkins showed flashes of what could be the start of an impressive Mustangs career. Though he fumbled twice, Jenkins played with composure and kept Cal Poly’s FCS-leading rushing attack in rhythm.
Jenkins ran the ball 16 times for 93 yards and scored on a 50-yard run in the first quarter. Sophomores Joe Protheroe, Jared Mohamed and Kyle Lewis also scored rushing touchdowns for a Cal Poly team averaging close to 400 yards on the ground this season.
“We’re not going to change,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “People know who we are and they still can’t stop us. Everybody knows we’re going to run the football and we can run the football against anybody.”
Garcia rushed for a game-high 131 yards on 18 carries, marking the third time in the last four games he has surpassed the 100-yard mark. Protheroe, who played through nagging ankle and hamstring injuries, finished with 75 yards and Lewis added 55.
Lewis turned in his strongest performance of the season, piling up 201 all-purpose yards and scoring two touchdowns. The sophomore slotback added 57 receiving yards and 89 kickoff return yards to his rushing total. All 57 of Lewis’ receiving yards came on a halfback pass from Kory Fox that went for a touchdown with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
Defense delivers: The Mustangs fumbled the opening kickoff and again on their first play from scrimmage, leaving the Cal Poly defense in a pair of tough situations in the first half.
Following both turnovers, the Mustangs prevented Portland State from picking up a first down and limited the Vikings to two first-quarter field goals. Those early stops kept a red-hot Vikings offense from gaining much momentum.
Portland State quarterback Alex Kuresa eventually found his way and completed 16 of 25 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He also led the Vikings in rushing with 101 yards on 18 carries, many of those extending scoring drives for a team struggling to move the ball.
“The line of scrimmage was dominated by us on both sides of the ball,” Walsh said.
Senior linebacker Burton De Koning led Cal Poly with nine tackles, including two for lost yardage. Fellow linebackers R.J. Mazolewski and Tu’uta Inoke added eight tackles apiece for the Mustangs, which finished the game with season highs of four sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
Up next: Cal Poly will be back on the road next weekend when the Mustangs travel to Cedar City, Utah, to take on Southern Utah in another Big Sky Conference matchup.
The Thunderbirds (5-2, 4-0) are one of two teams in the Big Sky without a conference loss, along with Eastern Washington. Southern Utah has won five consecutive games and defeated its last three opponents by a combined score of 122-6.
Senior quarterback Ammon Olsen passed for 336 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Thunderbirds to a 34-6 win against UC Davis on Saturday.