Sophomore fullback Jake Romanelli established career highs of 108 yards and 24 carries, scoring one touchdown, as No. 19 Cal Poly defeated Southern Utah 24-23 in the Great West Conference opener for both schools Saturday night before 10,017 Homecoming fans in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Southern Utah (2-4, 0-1 Great West) scored with nine seconds remaining on a 15-yard pass from Cade Cooper to Tysson Poots and set up for the potential game-winning two-point conversion.
But after Cal Poly called a time out, Thunderbird head coach Ed Lamb elected to go for one. Ryan Griffith's extra-point kick missed wide left.
Cal Poly (3-3, 1-0 Great West) beat Southern Utah for the ninth straight time and now leads the series 17-6.
The Mustangs never trailed in the game, but Southern Utah answered each Cal Poly score.
Romanelli, who replaced injured fullback Jordan Yocum in the starting lineup, scored the game's first touchdown on a 23-yard run midway through the first quarter.
Southern Utah answered with a 14-yard scoring pass from Cooper to Jared Ursua with 47 seconds left in the opening period, tying the score at 7-7.
Cal Poly regained the lead, 14-7, on a two-yard run by senior slotback Jon Hall with 4:50 remaining before halftime.
The Thunderbirds tied the game again at 14-14 on a one-yard pass from Cooper to Abbel Aiono with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
Junior quarterback Tony Smith put Cal Poly back on top, 21-14, with a five-yard run around left end. Hall provided the key block on the play.
Griffith closed the gap to 21-17 with a 34-yard field goal with 9:38 to go in the game, but Chris Pinto, perfect on his three extra-point kicks, added a 36-yard field goal with 1:51 to play to reestablish the Mustangs' seven-point cushion at 24-17.
Poots, who caught 12 passes for 170 yards, caught a 15-yarder from Cooper to cut the Mustang lead to one point, capping a 65-yard, 10-play drive, but Griffith missed the PAT with nine seconds to play.
Southern Utah's Myles Crawford-Harris recovered an onside kick, but Cooper was sacked by Ryan Shotwell on the final play of the game. Cooper fumbled the ball and it was recovered by Carlton Gillespie.
The Thunderbirds led in most offensive statistical categories, including first downs (26-16), passing yards (263-22), total yards (385-250) and time of possession (32:55 to 27:05). Southern Utah never punted in the game.
Cooper completed 27 of 40 passes for 263 yards and all three Southern Utah touchdowns. Major Gray led the Thunderbird ground game with 57 yards on 20 carries.
Smith connected on just three of seven passes for 22 yards for Cal Poly. His only pass attempt of the second half was for six yards to Romanelli on fourth down, giving the Mustangs a first down late in the game.
Junior wide receiver Dominique Johnson caught Cal Poly's other two passes for 16 yards.
Junior linebacker Marty Mohamed led the Mustangs in tackles for the fifth straight game, notching 12 stops, including four solo. Sophomore lineman Erich Klemme had a sack, a fumble recovery, 2.5 tackles for lost yardage and a quarterback hurry while Shotwell recorded three sacks, forced a fumble, broke up a pass and hurried the quarterback twice.
Senior safety David Fullerton garnered his ninth career interception and second this season to go with five tackles.
Cal Poly will host Dixie State next Saturday at 6:05 p.m. on Parents Weekend in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.