Senior quarterback Dano Graves hit junior slot back Kyle Lewis with a 39-yard touchdown pass with 4:29 to play and Cal Poly held on to beat No. 6 Montana 42-41 in a Big Sky Conference football opener for both teams Saturday afternoon in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
After Cal Poly scored the go-ahead touchdown, Montana drove 34 yards in six plays but a 48-yard field goal attempt by Tom Semenza missed wide right with 1:55 to play.
Cal Poly picked up one first down before it was forced to punt with 11 seconds to play. Jerry Louie-McGee returned the punt six yards 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 at about Montana's 23-yard line.
Cal Poly has beaten Montana each of the last three years but the Grizzlies still hold a commanding 15-5 advantage in the series.
With the win, Cal Poly improves to 3-1 overall and 1-0 in Big Sky games. Montana fell to 2-1 and 0-1.
The Mustangs have the longest active regular-season winning streak against the Grizzlies at three games (Liberty, Weber State and Portland State are next with one) and, including playoff games, Cal Poly is No. 1 with three followed by Youngstown State and Western Illinois with two.
The loss spoiled a record-breaking performance by Louie-McGee, who caught a Montana-record 21 catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Gustafson completed his first 16 passes of the game and finished 47 of 59 for 418 yards and a pair of scores.
Cal Poly countered with its relentless and nation-leading Triple Option, rushing for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Junior fullback Joe Protheroe netted 90 yards on 17 carries while senior slot back Kori Garcia added 73 yards on 11 trips and Lewis 52 yards on eight carries.
Graves completed six of 10 passes for 157 yards and three touchdowns, tying his career high for scoring passes set three years ago against Weber State. Lewis was his favorite target with two catches for 48 yards and Protheroe and Kory Fox caught the other scoring passes from Graves.
There were six lead changes in the see-saw battle.
Cal Poly led 28-17 with 5:49 to play in the second quarter on three successive touchdowns – a 20-yard run by Graves, a 13-yard run by Lewis and a 16-yard pass from Graves to Fox -- to wipe out a 17-7 Montana advantage.
The Grizzlies, however, responded by outscoring the Mustangs 24-7 for a 41-35 cushion, setting the stage for Cal Poly's game-winning 39-yard toss from Graves to Lewis. A 24-yard field goal by Tim Semenza gave the Grizzlies their six-point lead with 8:11 to play.
Montana finished with a 485-431 advantage in total offense, netting 418 through the air, and a 25-19 edge in first downs. Time of possession was close with Cal Poly posting a 32-second advantage.
Calhoun led Montana's ground game with 63 yards on 11 carries and also contributed eight catches for 63 yards.
Cal Poly was led defensively by senior rush linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa with 12 tackles, three for lost yardage. Sophomore linebacker Anders Turner added 10 stops. Aaryn Bouzos notched his second interception in as many weeks and Kelly Shepard recovered a Montana fumble. Both turnovers led to Cal Poly touchdowns in the second quarter.
Justin Strong and Connor Strahm each had 11 tackles for Montana and James Banks added 10.
Cal Poly plays its second Big Sky game next Saturday at North Dakota.