SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Junior wide receiver J.J. Koski scored twice, once on a punt return and the other on a long run on an end around, and five Cal Poly ball carriers rushed for over 60 yards as the Mustangs defeated Sacramento State 41-27 in a Big Sky Conference football game Saturday night inside Hornet Stadium.
Drew Hernandez earned his second consecutive 100-yard game, rushing for 113 yards on 12 carries, and Joe Protheroe added 128 yards on 32 trips for his fourth consecutive 100-yard game and 18th of his Mustang career, scoring once, for the Mustangs, who improved to 2-4 on the year and 1-2 in Big Sky games.
Despite 322 passing yards from Kevin Thomson and 149 yards rushing by Elijah Dotson, Sacramento State fell to 2-3 and 0-2.
Cal Poly, which had two 100-yard rushers in a game for the second week in a row, built a 21-14 lead in the first half on two touchdown runs and its first punt return for a score in 10 years.
The two teams traded a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter, which ended tied at 14-14.
Dotson capped a quick 70-yard, six-play drive with a 10-yard run for the Hornets and Cal Poly answered with a 16-play drive, all rushes, covering 72 yards. Protheroe dove the final yard for the score and a 7-7 tie.
Sacramento State put together another quick drive, this time 75 yards on five plays, capped by Pierre Williams' 54-yard reception from Thomson and a 14-7 Hornet advantage
Again, Cal Poly answered. An 88-yard march required just seven plays, quarterback Khaleel Jenkins scooting 13 yards around left end for the score and tying the game at 14-14 with a minute to play in the opening period.
Hernandez broke off a 56-yard run with a pitch around right end to help set up the tying score.
The second quarter was not quite as explosive offensively. In fact, neither team scored on offense. Instead, Cal Poly produced its first punt return for a touchdown since Tre'dale Tolver returned a Wisconsin punt 40 yards for a score on Nov. 22, 2008, inside Camp Randall Stadium.
Koski broke the long drought, returning an Owen Hoolihan punt 70 yards for a touchdown and a 21-14 lead with 9:31 to play in the first half. Koski fielded the punt on one hop, broke left, cut right at the Hornet 45, raced down the right sideline and, thanks to a block by Quentin Harrison, cut left at the 20 and scampered untouched into the end zone.
After giving up two touchdowns on two Hornet possessions in the first quarter, Cal Poly's defense forced two Sacramento State punts and a pair of field goal attempts in the second period. Devon Medeiros' first try from 50 yards missed wide right and the second attempt never got off the ground due to a low snap. Kitu Humphrey tackled the Hornet holder for a nine-yard loss.
Cal Poly added two field goals in the third quarter, Alex Vega hitting from 31 and 20 yards, and the Mustangs scored two more touchdowns in the final period on an 11-yard run by Jenkins and a 68-yard run by Koski with a pitch from Jenkins down the left sideline.
The Mustangs led by at least seven points throughout the second half.
Cal Poly rushed for 462 yards on 70 plays while holding the Hornets to just 171 yards on the ground. The Mustangs completed just one of six passes – a key 16-yarder from Jenkins to Koski on a third-and-eight play late in the third quarter – while Sacramento State gained 322 yards through the air.
Jenkins finished with 73 yards on 19 carries while Koski added 68 yards on his one trip. Redshirt freshman CJ Cole contributed 67 yards on three carries, including a 63-yard run down the right sideline to set up one of Vega's field goals.
Linebacker Matt Shotwell made nine tackles and notched his first interception as a Mustang. Nik Navarro and Myles Cecil each earned a sack. Cal Poly's offensive line did not allow a sack, breaking a string of 15 consecutive games by the Hornets with at least two sacks.
Immanuel Anderson earned 14 tackles for Sacramento State and Caelen Barnes added 10.
Cal Poly, which lost nine fumbles in its first five games this season, did not turn the ball over against the Hornets, winning on the road for the first time since October 2016, also at Sacramento State, snapping a nine-game road losing streak.
The Mustangs have won five of the last six meetings against the Hornets and 10 of 12, extending their seris advantage to 21 wins against 17 losses.
Cal Poly has a bye next week and hosts UC Davis in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Mustang Family Weekend, Saturday, Oct. 20. Kickoff inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium is set for 4:05 p.m.
Photo above of Cal Poly junior wide receiver J.J. Koski courtesy of Alexander Bohlen