PORTLAND, Oregon – Sophomore quarterback Chris Brown rushed for 129 yards and one touchdown and passed for two more scores as No. 18 Cal Poly rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to beat Portland State 38-34 in the Big Sky Conference football opener for both schools Thursday night at JELD-WEN Field.
Junior slotback Kristaan Ivory (pictured at right) earned his third 100-yard game as a Mustang, rushing for 184 yards on 32 carries and scoring once for Cal Poly (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky) in the game televised by ROOT Sports.
Portland State (3-2, 0-1 Big Sky) averaged mind-boggling statistics of 612 total yards and 43 points in four non-conference games, but was held to 42 yards and no points in a momentum-switching third quarter in which the Mustangs scored twice to tie the game at 21-21.
Cal Poly football, presented by French Hospital Medical Center, outscored the host Vikings 17-13 in the final period to clinch the win and even the series against Portland State at 10-10. Mustang head coach Tim Walsh, who coached at Portland State for 14 seasons, is now 5-0 in the Mustangs-Vikings series – 2-0 as Mustang head coach and 3-0 with the Vikings – and also 5-0 after a bye week in his five years at Cal Poly.
"The second half, we totally dominated the game," Walsh told the Portland Tribune. "Defensively, we came out and made a commitment that we were going to play the run, and if (the Vikings) threw the ball, they threw it. We played the run extremely well."
Portland State compiled 487 total yards and scored 38 points, but was held largely in check in the second half. Cal Poly has been outscored 92-34 in the first half this season but has outscored the opposition 84-33 after the break.
Portland State built its 21-7 first-half lead on Justin Lilley's three-yard run in the first quarter and a pair of Kieran McDonagh touchdown passes spanning 14 yards to Alex Toureen and 13 yards to Victor Dean in the second period.
Cal Poly's only score of the first half was a 13-yard run by Ivory, capping a monumental 80-yard, 17-play drive that lasted seven minutes and cutting Portland State's lead to 14-7 with 1:09 left. The Vikings, however, quickly marched 75 yards, using just five plays, to re-establish their 14-point lead prior to halftime.
Cal Poly's second-half comeback began with an 18-yard run by Chris Nicholls on a lateral pass from Brown. Kori Garcia tied the game at 21-21 with a 14-yard touchdown grab from Brown, the only pass play in the 10-play, 66-yard drive.
Later in the third quarter, Cal Poly was pinned back to its own one-yard line following a 51-yard Kyle Loomis punt. Brown was intercepted on the first play and David Edgerton returned it to the five-yard line. The Mustang defense allowed just one yard on the next three plays and Nick Fernandez missed a tiebreaking 21-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.
Inspired by the play of their defense, the Mustang offense regained its momentum in the fourth quarter as Bobby Zalud kicked a 32-yard field goal and Akaniniyene Umoh caught a 54-yard scoring pass from Brown, capping a 24-0 Cal Poly run and giving the Mustangs a 31-21 cushion with 10:35 to play.
It took just one play for Portland State to cut the deficit to three points as McDonagh hit Dean with a 57-yard scoring pass.
The Mustangs, who had put together scoring drives of 80, 65, 66 and 70 yards for touchdowns and 66 yards for a field goal, bounced back with a 61-yard, 11-play march which featured one incomplete pass and 10 rushing plays along with taking three points off the scoreboard.
Cal Poly drove to the Portland State 14-yard line and set up for a 31-yard Zalud field goal attempt. The kick was good, but the Vikings were penalized for putting three defenders over the center and the personal foul gave the Mustangs a first down at the Portland State seven-yard line.
After Brandon Howe gained six yards on two dives over the middle, Brown kept the ball on a keeper around left end for a one-yard touchdown run and a 38-28 Mustang lead.
Portland State's next drive stalled at the Mustang 16-yard line, thanks in part to an illegal substitution penalty on fourth down. The Vikings got the ball back and drove 56 yards for another touchdown, McDonagh hitting Dean on an 11-yard scoring pass with 1:44 to play. The extra-point kick missed wide left and the Vikings trailed by four.
Portland State's onside kick was recovered by Garcia and the Mustangs ran out the clock.
Cal Poly ran off a season-high 97 plays and amassed 518 total yards, including 431 on the ground, while Portland State garnered 487 total yards, 302 through the air. The Mustangs compiled a 31-22 advantage in first downs and a 13-minute bulge in time of possession.
In the first half, Portland State outgained Cal Poly 280-151 in total yards and forced the Mustangs to punt on their first four possessions. Cal Poly amassed 367 yards in total offense and 31 points after the break.
"We wore them out in the second half," said Walsh. "That was really just about a great second-half performance. This is one of the more special wins of my career. We're down 21-7 against a team that's averaging 600 yards, and we come back to beat them at their place. That's a good win."
Ivory's 32 carries are a career high while his 184 yards were one shy of his career best established in the season opener against San Diego.
Brown, who collected his 129 yards on 21 carries, completed six of 18 passes for 87 yards and two scores. Umoh caught three passes for 67 yards and Ivory caught two balls while junior wide receiver Willie Tucker made no catches for the first time since his freshman season.
Linebacker Johnny Millard led the Mustangs defensively with six tackles. Safety Matt Reza notched Cal Poly's first interception of the season and second of his career.
McDonagh connected on 16 of 32 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns for Portland State. His favorite targets were Kasey Closs, Dean and Thomas Carter, each with four catches. DJ Adams, who rushed for 208 yards at UC Davis a week ago, ran for 126 yards on 25 carries Thursday.
Cal Poly, which has played three straight games on the road and did not play a home game in September, will host Yale for a non-conference game on Saturday, Oct. 5, at 2:05 p.m. in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Photo of Chris Brown courtesy Don Ryan | Associated Press