There's no safety from a charging herd of Mustangs.
After a safety thrust Montana ahead with less than 4 minutes to play, Cal Poly ran -- and passed -- its way into Montana territory before sending 26,065 rain-soaked Griz fans home unhappy Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
Freshman kicker Alex Vega, Cal Poly's big leg usually reserved for kickoffs, drilled a 49-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining to help the Mustangs escape from Missoula with a 20-19 victory.
It's the second straight week Wa-Griz played host to a last-second thriller. Montana defeated four-time defending national champion North Dakota State last Saturday, 38-35, on a touchdown run with 2 seconds left by Joey Counts.
This week's result dropped the Grizzlies to 1-1 on the young season; Cal Poly is 1-0.
Cal Poly needed the dramatic final kick after the Grizzlies scored two points on the other end of the field a few minutes before.
Defensive end Derek Crittenden forced a safety on a rare Cal Poly pass play set up by punter Chris Lider's 57-yard boot inside the 5. Returner Chris Fletcher attempted to field the kick at the 1, dropping the ball and covering it at the 2.
On the very next play Crittenden got pressure from the left, grabbing hold of quarterback Chris Brown and whipping him toward the sideline. Brown's half-hearted pass attempt didn't cross the goal line and the incompletion was flagged for intentional grounding and a safety.
Quarterback Brady Gustafson put the Griz on the board first near the end of the first quarter, the 6-foot-7 QB squeezing up the middle for a touchdown run from inches outside the end zone. The Griz took the 7-0 lead thanks to the nine-play, 81-yard drive.
Griz running back John Nguyen set up the game's first touchdown with a 41-yard run down inside the 1-yard line. Nguyen got to the second level before juking a tackler at the 15 and making for the left pylon. After initially ruling the play a touchdown, replay overturned it.
Gustafson's first career TD run came on the very next play.
The Griz looked destined for points minutes earlier following a Cal Poly turnover on downs. After the Mustangs couldn't convert a fourth-and-2 near midfield, the Grizzlies marched the ball into the red zone. Then Gustafson hit receiver Ellis Henderson down to the 15-yard line for a first down.
But linebacker Tu'uta Inoke stripped Henderson as he went to the ground. Instant replay confirmed the fumble and recovery by Cal Poly. It was the first of four Griz turnovers.
UM was also 0 for 3 on fourth-down tries; Cal Poly was 4 for 6.
The Mustangs tied it just before the end of the first when, following a Montana failure on fourth-and-1, Brown did what he does best. The Cal Poly signal caller kept an option handoff and ran it 60 yards for a touchdown, untouched, on the only play of the possession.
The Griz kept a watch on the Cal Poly running attack outside of a few big gains, but the 'Stangs still totaled 330 yards on the ground. Brown had 140; Joe Protheroe ran for 112.
After Montana missed a 37-yard field goal on its first possession of the second quarter, Cal Poly found another opening.
Brown got loose for another long run, this one 27 yards on a fake pitch, and the QB showed his diversity on the next play. Brown tossed a ball up for Roland Jackson Jr. that the receiver wrestled away from UM cornerback JR Nelson for a 36-yard touchdown reception and a 14-7 lead.
Hoping to answer before halftime, the Grizzlies instead gave the ball back to Cal Poly with 3:39 left in the second. Gustafson threw deep to Henderson, but the receiver turned inside while the pass went outside. Mustangs safety B.J. Nard was the only player in the area for the first of his three interceptions Saturday.
The Mustangs couldn't do anything with the opportunity however, punting to the Griz deep with 1:48 left. Gustafson marched Montana to the end zone, completing a game-tying 6-yard touchdown to Henderson with 20 seconds left before the break on UM's 58th play of the first half.
The Griz got just 34 plays in the second half, though, as Montana's big passing attack sputtered. Gustafson, who completed 28 of 42 passes in the first half, finished 40 for 64, just short of school records in both completions (43) and attempts (72). Former Griz great Dave Dickenson set both records in 1995.
Gustafson finished with 353 yards.
Cal Poly executed its game plan perfectly after taking the second-half kickoff. The Mustangs ate up 7 minutes of clock on a 17-play drive that finally stalled near the 30. Normal kicker Stephen Pyle gave Poly the 17-14 lead with a 48-yard field goal midway through the third quarter.
But Pyle couldn't recreate the long boot, missing a 47-yarder on the Mustangs' next drive. Griz linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren got a finger on the kick for a partial block.
Cal Poly squandered another chance after Nard intercepted his second pass of the game. The defensive back returned the pick close to 40 yards to the Grizzlies' 15. The Mustangs turned it over on downs at the 6, though.
Nard showed up again just three plays later, nabbing his third pick, but the Griz lucked out. Henderson, the receiver for whom the pass was intended, bent the defender over backward on a tackle causing an injury and fumble.
The next Griz play went for 44 yards, a Gustafson pass to Josh Horner, to set up Daniel Sullivan's game-tying field goal. Sullivan drilled a 24-yarder to knot the contest 17-17 with 8:52 to play at that point, just before the late-game heroics on both sides.
Cal Poly now owns a two-game win streak against Montana, having beaten the Griz in San Luis Obispo 41-21 last season. Saturday was just the Mustangs' second ever win in Missoula, though.