Determined to bring the Golden Horseshoe trophy back to San Luis Obispo, Chris Brown turned in arguably his best performance in a season full of memorable moments Saturday afternoon.
The fifth-year senior quarterback spearheaded a dominant effort by the Cal Poly offense en route to a 55-38 victory over rival UC Davis in a Big Sky Conference football game in front of 6,197 fans at Aggie Stadium.
Playing in his final Battle for the Golden Horseshoe as a Mustang, Brown accounted for touchdowns throwing, passing and receiving for the second time in his career. Behind a dynamic effort from its quarterback, Cal Poly (4-6, 3-4 Big Sky) avenged last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Aggies and ended a four-game road losing streak.
“This horseshoe is something that we needed because we had some tough losses at the beginning of the year. We had tough losses all year,” said Brown, who has now rushed for more than 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. “Those games that we should’ve won. Those games that we feel like we played great the majority of the game and just came up short.”
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Despite missing practice time during the week with a left leg injury, Brown threw three touchdown passes to senior wide receiver Willie Tucker to surpass the 100-yard mark for the first time in nine games this season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback completed 6 of 9 passes for 153 yards and the three touchdowns.
He added a game-high 155 yards rushing and one touchdown on 17 carries, and also pulled in a 30-yard reception from running back Kori Garica late in the first quarter. It was Brown’s sixth 100-yard rushing game this year, giving him 1,016 yards on the season.
“He’s one of the most competitive guys,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “When the game is on the line, there’s one guy you feel good about having the ball in his hands and it’s him. He did it again today. He ran that offense as well as that offense could be run.”
With Cal Poly in control to start the second half, UC Davis went on a 24-7 run to cut the Mustangs’ lead to 41-38 less than a minute into the fourth quarter. A pair of Cal Poly turnovers and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty helped the Aggies (1-9, 1-6 Big Sky) get back into the game.
The Mustangs were able to respond, however, with Brown leading a 10-play, 90-yard drive capped by his third touchdown pass to Tucker from 5 yards out. Cal Poly added an insurance score seven minutes later when junior DJ Peluso scored his first touchdown of the season on a 19-yard sweep to the left side.
By the time the final whistle blew, the Mustangs recorded 669 yards of offense, including 486 yards rushing on 66 attempts — an average of 7.4 yards per carry.
“Coach (Saga) Tuitele did a great job with the calls and trusting us to make the plays,” Brown said. “Our offensive line, I don’t think they’ve ever played a game like this that was just absolutely great. I had so much protection, I had so much time.”
Defense seemed optional from the opening kick as both teams traded touchdowns throughout an exciting first quarter.
Tucker caught his first of three touchdown passes on the Mustangs’ second play from scrimmage. UC Davis answered right back with a long touchdown pass of its own when C.J. Spencer, making his second start of the season, connected with Alex Cannon from 51 yards out.
Spencer finished the game 25 of 37 for 301 yards and two touchdowns, and Cannon pulled in six receptions for 122 of those yards.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Walsh said. “They’re not gonna give it up just because you’re ahead at halftime and they didn’t.”
Garcia and UC Davis’ Manusamoa Luuga each scored rushing touchdowns to keep the score tied at 14-all midway through the opening period. On the Mustangs’ ensuing possession, Garcia threw a halfback pass to Brown, and the quarterback ran 30 yards for a touchdown.
It was the second time in their career Garcia and Brown connected on a scoring pass, staking Cal Poly to a 21-14 lead to start the second quarter.
Looking to keep the pressure on the host Aggies, Cal Poly constructed one of its longest drives of the season early in the second quarter. The Mustangs converted twice on fourth down — the first time from their own 10-yard line — during a 20-play, 99-yard scoring drive.
Redshirt freshman Malcolm Davis put the exclamation point on the drive with a 15-yard scoring sweep to the right side and Cal Poly went ahead 27-14. The Mustangs went on to score once more before the end of the half when Brown scored his team-leading 11th rushing touchdown of the season to give the visitors a 20-point lead.
“Really I thought we dominated the game and then once they got some momentum, it became anybody’s game again,” Walsh said. “But our offense responded every single time.”
Brown wouldn’t let it happen any other way.