SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – For the second year in a row, the University of Montana football team came out on the losing end of a contest against Cal Poly which came down to a late field goal, falling 42-41 to the Mustangs in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.
Down 42-41 with under five minutes to play, UM quarterback Brady Gustafson hit running back John Nguyen for a 30-yard catch and run into Mustang territory, eventually setting up a field goal attempt by Tim Semenza which missed wide right from 48-yards out with 1:55 remaining.
Nguyen had 10 rushing yards on 10 attempts and added 33 yards receiving.
Cal Poly killed the clock to 11 seconds before punting it deep to the Grizzlies’ Jerry Louie-McGee, stopping the explosive Coeur d’Alene native almost right away at the UM 17 yard line.
UM attempted several laterals in a last-ditch effort but were stopped by the Mustangs, icing the win.
It was the second loss in a row for UM at the hands of Cal Poly, which topped the Griz 20-19 last season at Washington-Grizzly Stadium on a last second field goal.
“They are just a good team,” UM head coach Bob Stitt said of Cal Poly. “It isn’t anything that our guys weren’t ready to play, because they were ready to play, it’s just two good football teams playing and one of them won by one point. They had one more point than we did and I’m proud of the way the team played.”
The loss also spoiled a record-breaking day for Gustafson and Louie-McGee, with the signal caller completing a UM-record 47 passes, while the redshirt freshman receiver snagged 21 passes, tying a conference record.
“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,” 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.”
McGee finished with 120 yards and two scores, including a 61-yarder in the second quarter.
Cal Poly quarterback Dano Graves engineered an eight-play, 75-yard drive with under five minutes to play, hitting Kyle Lewis for the eventual game-winner from 39 yards out.
Montana (2-1) led 17-7 early in the second quarter after Gustafson’s long scoring strike to Louie-McGee, at which point the former Billings West quarterback had completed all 15 of his passes.
Back-to-back Gustafson turnovers in UM territory, a tipped interception and a fumble, on the ensuing possessions both led to Mustang touchdowns, however, with Lewis finding pay dirt from 13 yards out before Graves hit Kory Fox to put Cal Poly up 28-17.
Gustafson hit Louie-McGee for another score 30 seconds before halftime to make it 28-24.
Jeremy Calhoun’s third TD run put Montana up 38-35 early in the fourth quarter and a Semenza field goal gave the Griz a six-point cushion with 3:57 remaining.
Cal Poly, the top rushing team in the FCS, finished with 302 yards on the ground as a team, well below its average of over 392 yards per game, while Graves tossed for 157 yards and three scores.
Gustafson ended his day with 418 yards through the air and the two scores to Louie-McGee on top of the two turnovers, while the tailback Calhoun led UM with 63 yards rushing in addition to the three touchdowns.