MISSOULA — Alex Vega’s first college field goal attempt will be a tough act to follow.
Cal Poly’s freshman kicker nailed a 49-yard field goal with four seconds left in the game to give the Mustangs a season-opening 20-19 victory over Montana on Saturday night.
“The g-rated version was just don’t screw this up,” Vega said after the game when asked what was going through his mind as he trotted onto the field. “I was confident I could make the kick and I’m glad coach gave me an opportunity.”
Montana (1-1) had taken a 19-17 lead with 3:43 to play on a safety when Cal Poly’s Chris Brown was called for intentional grounding in the end zone as he was being sacked by Derek Crittenden.
But after the Grizzlies turned the ball over on downs at the Cal Poly 32 with 1:17 left in the game, Brown moved the Mustangs to the Montana 32-yard line and Vega got his first college opportunity.
“Alex is our kickoff guy with the strongest leg on the team,” Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said. “If it was inside the 40, I was going to let Stephen (Pyle) kick it. I was concerned it was his first college field goal but congratulations to him.”
Brown scored on a 60-yard run in the first quarter and connected with Roland Jackson Jr. on a 36-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Pyle added a 48-yard third quarter field goal to round out the Mustangs scoring.
“It was just a great job by our defense,” Walsh said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way they responded.”
Montana’s Brady Gustafson opened the scoring with a 1-yard run in the first quarter and hit Ellis Henderson with a 6-yard pass with 20 seconds left in the first half to make 14-14 at the half. Daniel Sullivan tied the game again at 17-17 with 8:52 left in the game.
But Gustafson, who completed 40 of 64 passes for 353 yards, was also picked off three times by B. J. Nard.
“It’s unfortunate that as hard as our team played, we couldn’t come out with a win,” said Montana coach Bob Stitt. “We had things going early and didn’t put up a ton of points.”
While the offense was quieted after putting up 38 points in a win over four-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State last week, it was the Montana defense that almost pulled out the win when Crittenden chased down Brown in the end zone.
“Their guys didn’t really block me and I ran after the quarterback and tackled him,” Crittenden said.
Brown finished the game completing only 4 of 12 passes for 56 yards, but the senior ran for 130 yards on 24 carries. Joe Protheroe added 112 yards rushing on 29 carries. Tu’uta Inoke paced the Mustangs defense with 16 tackles.
Montana’s defense was led by Kendrick Van Ackern who had 20 tackles.
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