Cal Poly Outlasts Montana in Big Sky Opener, 42-41

Cal Poly QB Dano Graves Handing off to FB Joe Protheroe (Laura Dickinson, San Luis Obispo Tribune)
Cal Poly QB Dano Graves Handing off to FB Joe Protheroe (Laura Dickinson, San Luis Obispo Tribune)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif.–Quarterback Dano Graves passed for three touchdowns and rushed for another in leading Cal Poly to a 42-41 victory over previously undefeated Montana in a 92 degree day in front of 8,156 fans at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

Graves drove the Mustangs (3-1) 75 yards in eight plays and then weathered a Montana (2-1) drive that ended when Tim Semenza missed a 48-yard field goal wide right in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.

Cal Poly picked up one first down before it was forced to punt with 11 seconds to play. Jerry Louie-McGee returned the punt to his own 17-yard line with one second to go. Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson completed a shot pass to Keenan Curran and the Grizzlies attempted several laterals before B.J. Nard secured the tackle ending the game.

The Mustangs defeated the Grizzlies for the third consecutive season.

Graves completed just 6 of 10 passes for 157 yards, including the game-winning 39-yard touchdown to junior running back Kyle Lewis with 4:29 remaining in the game.

Montana had an opportunity to answer on its ensuing possession, but freshman Tim Semenza’s 48-yard field goal missed wide right to seal the outcome.

Montana quarterback Brady Gustafson completed a school record 47 passes in 59 attempts for 418 yards. Both of his touchdowns went to Jerry Louie-McGee, who also had a school record 21 catches for 155 yards.

“Brady came back and did a nice job, he really ran the game plan the way we wanted him to and made some big throws,” Montana head coach Bob Stitt said. “We had a lot of guys helping him out, the receivers did a nice job and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t pull out the win.”

Montana running back Jeremy Calhoun scored from 1 yard out to cap a 14-play, 75-yard opening drive that covered just short of six minutes.

Cal Poly tied the score at 7-7 with a 12-play drive on its first possession. Kori Garcia had three carries for 44 yards, including the 5-yard rushing touchdown with 2:40 left in the first quarter.

The Grizzlies answered with a 33-yard field goal from Semenza on the team’s next drive to put Montana up 10-7 in the opening minute of the second quarter.

Gustafson and Louie-McGee got together again after the Griz defense forced a three-and-out. Louie-McGee caught a screen pass and scampered 61 yards up field for a touchdown and 17-7 Montana lead.

Gustafson had completed all 15 of his passes to that point including eight to Louie-McGee for 120 yards with the 61-yard score.

Gustafson completed another pass before his 17th attempt was tipped and intercepted by Mustang safety Aaryn Bouzos.

The Mustangs turned the turnover into Lewis’ 13-yard scoring run on the next play and then Gustafson fumbled on a sack, which led to a 16-yard TD pass from Graves to Kory Fox and a 28-17 lead.

Gustafson hit Louie-McGee for another score 30 seconds before halftime to make it 28-24.

Calhoun scored his second touchdown of the game to open the second-half scoring from 2 yards out to give Montana the lead 31-28 with 8:32 left in the third quarter.

Cal Poly then broke ahead with 1:48 left in the third when Graves found Joe Protheroe streaking 20-yards behind the defense for a 55-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10 play.

The Griz run game finally broke through on the very next drive, Calhoun busting right up the middle for a 29-yard scoring run with 13:34 left in the game to put Montana up 38-35.

Montana extended its lead with a 24-yard field goal from Semenza 41-35 with 8:11 to play in the game.

“They try to get you to run sideline to sideline in 100-degree weather out there with the sun pounding on you,” Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said of defending Montana’s short passing game. “I thought we played much better against it in the second half than we did in the first.”

Cal Poly travels to North Dakota next week, while Montana hosts Southern Utah.