SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- One team's quarterback completed a program-record 47 passes. The other's did more damage in just six.
No. 6 Montana suffered its second straight one-point defeat at the hands of Cal Poly in a 42-41 thriller at sunny Spanos Stadium. With the Mustangs' trademark option rushing attack corralled, Cal Poly QB Dano Graves sent the Griz home sour Saturday with his passing performance instead.
Graves attempted only 10 passes on the day, but three found the end zone, including a 39-yard strike to Kyle Lewis late in the fourth quarter that thrust Cal Poly ahead for the last time.
With the Griz playing the run, stacking the box while guarding a 41-35 lead and defending Cal Poly's second-and-5 attempt just over midfield, Graves went to the air. He threw deep up the left seam with 4:29 on the clock, over the cornerback playing ground support and the Grizzlies' ailing safeties late in the game. All Lewis had to do was catch it.
"That's what you give up against a very good option team. In order to stop 'em you're going to give up some one-on-one situations," Montana head coach Bob Stitt said.
The triumph for Cal Poly, which knocked off Montana 20-19 on a last-second field goal last year in Missoula, was also UM's first loss this season. The Griz are 2-1 but with a 0-1 mark in Big Sky Conference games. The 'Stangs shoot to the top of the standings at 3-1, 1-0.
Where Montana's offense has been hurting at times this season, Saturday's passing performance looked surgical.
The Griz moved the ball from all areas of the field with quick, succinct throws near the line of scrimmage. Quarterback Brady Gustafson threw for two touchdowns, then piloted his team's offense down to the red zone for two more easy rushing scores.
He had a record day on the stat sheet and finished with 418 yards on 47 of 59 passing. No Griz quarterback has ever completed as many, Dave Dickenson holding the mark of 43 for the past 21 years.
Twenty-one went to receiver Jerry Louie-McGee, six more than any Griz receiver has ever had.
"It's things we thought could happen in the first week in the first half and the second week in the second half," Stitt said, referencing poor offensive stretches in UM's first two games.
It started when a 14-play drive to open the game reached the end zone on running back Jeremy Calhoun's 1-yard dive. He had three TDs for the day, including a career-long 29-yarder.
Cal Poly answered with a 5-yard Kori Garcia touchdown and then Griz kicker Tim Semenza notched his first of two field goals, this one from 33 yards, on the second play of the second quarter.
Both of Gustafson's touchdown passes went to Louie-McGee, the first putting UM up 17-7 when the redshirt freshman turned a harmless looking screen into a 61-yard sprint and score.
Gustafson and the offense could do no wrong through the first 1 1/2 quarters. He completed his first 16 passes, but No. 17 ended up in enemy hands. Tipped at the line of scrimmage, the fluttering ball was intercepted by Aaryn Bouzos at UM's 13-yard line.
Lewis ran the next play in for a score, the middle piece of 21 straight points by the Mustangs in less than 3 minutes.
Graves scored 1 minute, 15 seconds earlier and two plays later Gustafson fumbled again inside his own 30. Graves and receiver Kory Fox turned that opportunity into seven points.
"It gave them the short field. We're playing pretty flawless offense all day and then you have those couple mistakes happen," said Stitt, shaking his head.
The Griz pulled within 28-24 at halftime on another Louie-McGee TD, his 13th catch of the first half that finished a 17-play possession.
He had 140 yards at that point, but gained only 15 on eight second-half catches.
"They try to get you to run sideline to sideline in 100-degree weather out there with the sun pounding on you," Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said of defending Montana's oft-used screen game. "I thought we played much better against it in the second half than we did in the first."
Calhoun and Cal Poly's Joe Protheroe, who entered Saturday's game as the nation's leading rusher but scored on a reception, traded touchdowns to open the second half and maintain the deficit. Calhoun's long score, which gave Montana a 38-35 advantage, was set up by Connor Strahm's fumble recovery in the Poly backfield.
UM's defense forced a three-and-out then before driving into Poly territory and the fourth quarter. Aided by an offsides call on fourth-and-4, the Griz reached the 6-yard line before stalling.
Montana settled for a 24-yard field goal, leaving it a one-possession game and giving Cal Poly the opening it needed to take the final lead.
The Griz had two chances to answer. Cal Poly clunked the kickoff out of bounds and set up UM at the 35 to great promise. Two plays later a screen to RB John Nguyen crossed midfield. An officials' review ruled he stepped out at the Mustangs' 31 instead of where he was tackled at the 26. The visitors never got closer before attempting a 48-yard field goal for the lead with 1:55 to play.
The kick, which would have tied Semenza's career long, was well off the mark.
"They review the play, back a few yards," Gustasfon said. "It doesn't seem like anything, but ... (w)e've got to put our boy Timmy in a better position to kick that field goal."
UM forced a punt and got one final play with 1 second left. Gustafson's 47th completion of the game preceded a half dozen laterals, but Montana's miracle died just yards from where it started.