With the No. 14-ranked team in the country occupying the opposing sideline Saturday night, the Cal Poly football team gave the visiting Portland State Vikings too many extra opportunities.
Needing a victory to keep its FCS playoff hopes alive, the Mustangs fumbled five times and lost four of them en route to a 38-35 loss against at soldout Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The Vikings (6-1, 3-1 Big Sky) took advantage of consistently short field position despite an inspired effort by the Cal Poly defense. Entering Saturday’s game, the Mustangs had lost only two fumbles all season. They also had the fewest turnovers in the country last year, when the team finished 7-5 overall.
“We made mistakes that probably cost us the football game,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “We sealed our own destiny with the mistakes we made.”
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Big Sky leading rusher sits out
Senior quarterback Chris Brown missed Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury.
Brown, a preseason FCS All-American and the leading rushing in the Big Sky Conference, did not dress down for the first time this season. He still served as one of Cal Poly’s four captains before the game and stayed on the sideline in street clothes throughout the night.
In six games this season, Brown has averaged more than 21 carries per game and 5.5 yards per carry. During Cal Poly’s 42-41 overtime loss at Eastern Washington two weeks ago, Brown ran the ball a season-high 31 times and finished with 173 yards and three touchdowns.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior also missed some playing time late last year after piling up 249 carries on the season.
Depleted secondary takes another hit
Having already lost all-conference senior Chris Fletcher for the season because of a broken leg, the Mustangs’ secondary could be without a pair of key reserves moving forward.
Redshirt freshman Mekai Sheffie did not dress for the first time this season because of an unknown injury. Fellow redshirt freshman Aaron Johnson, who has backed up B.J. Nard and Kaulin Blair at safety this season, left the game early and had a sling on his arm for the entire second half.
In addition to true freshman quarterback Khaleel Jenkins, sophomore kicker James Foug also burned his redshirt year against Portland State.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Foug handled kickoff duties in the second half in place of regular starter Alex Vega. The left-footed Palo Alto native played in 10 games in 2014 after Stephen Pyle was injured and averaged 61.1 yards on 59 kickoffs.
Vega dressed down Saturday night but did not play. Fans will likely remember his 49-yard game-winning field goal during the season opener against Montana. Vega has not attempted a field goal since while splitting time with Pyle on kickoffs.