Cal Poly (0-6, 0-3 Big Sky), which has dropped Big Sky games to Northern Arizona, Idaho State and Southern Utah and has the school’s longest losing streak in over 50 years, continues conference play Saturday night with its Mustang Family Weekend game against No. 23 Weber State (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075).
Kickoff for just the third home game for the Mustangs this season is set for 6:05 p.m. PDT. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst).
Cal Poly, which had a bye last week, earned its fourth FCS playoff berth in 12 seasons last fall, finishing 7-5 and tied for fourth with Southern Utah in the Big Sky. Southern Utah was 6-5 in 2016, likely missing the FCS playoffs by one victory.
Colgate shut out Cal Poly for three quarters, the first team to do that since Southern Utah in 2010, and held off the Mustangs in the final minutes for a 20-14 win two weeks ago. An incomplete pass on fourth down at the Colgate 22 with 37 seconds remaining halted Cal Poly’s late rally. San Jose State overcame an early 6-0 deficit and built a 20-6 lead before Cal Poly closed the gap to seven. It was still a seven-point margin with eight minutes left before the Spartans scored twice in a nine-second span to pull away for the 34-13 triumph.
Against Northern Iowa, Cal Poly scored two touchdowns in the final 2:05 of regulation to force overtime, but two illegal procedure penalties thwarted the Mustangs’ drive after the Panthers scored. Northern Arizona led all the way in the Big Sky opener for both schools, pulling away with three consecutive touchdowns after Cal Poly closed the gap to 7-3 with a field goal. The Mustangs erased an early 10-0 deficit at Idaho State with 17 second-quarter points but let a 14-point third-quarter lead slip away as the Bengals outscored Cal Poly 21-3 over the final 18 minutes for a 38-34 triumph. Cal Poly quarterback Khaleel Jenkins rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns and also passed for two more scores.
Two weeks ago, Cal Poly dropped a 20-14 decision at Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds scored 17 points in the first 18 minutes of the game and held on. Trailing 20-7, Cal Poly rallied with a five-yard touchdown run by Broc Mortensen with 4:46 to play and got the ball back with 2:51 to go, but after picking up a pair of first downs and moving the ball into Southern Utah territory, the Mustang drive stalled. Senior fullback Jared Mohamed set new career highs with 142 yards on 30 carries.
Weber State welcomed back 34 letter winners, including 15 starters (six on offense, nine on defense), to Fall Camp in early August. Heading the list of veterans are linebacker Landon Stice (team-leading 108 tackles, 8.0 for lost yardage), tight end Andrew Vollert (62 catches, 840 yards, seven TDs in 2016) and cornerback Taron Johnson (48 tackles, 12 pass breakups in 2016).
Under fourth-year head coach Jay Hill, Weber State opened its 2017 season with a 76-0 whitewash against Montana Western, then dropped a 33-20 decision at Cal. The Wildcats put together a three-game win streak with victories over Sacramento State 31-24, UC Davis 41-3 and Montana State 25-17 before the run was stopped at home by Southern Utah 32-16 last week. Rashid Shaheed returned a kickoff 100 yards and Trey Tuttle kicked field goals spanning 37, 39 and 21 yards, remaining perfect at 13-for-13 this season, but Weber State was held to just 84 yards rushing, 250 yards of total offense, was stymied by 13 penalties and converted just two of 14 third-down plays.
Weber State is No. 3 in the nation in time of possession (34:45) and is No. 20 in both scoring offense (34.8) and scoring defense (18.2). The Wildcats also excel in kickoff returns (No. 8, 25.59 average), net punting (No. 6, 40,04), punt returns (No. 6, 18.94) and have a plus-five turnover margin.
For the season, Treshawn Garrett leads all Wildcat rushers with 369 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Stefan Cantwell has completed 83 of 135 passes (62 percent) for 1,227 yards and seven scores and has been intercepted just once. His favorite receivers are Vollert (26 catches, 285 yards, 3 TDs), Drew Batchelor (15-136-2), Shaheed (14-403-2) and Garrett (11-86-0). The Wildcat defense, which has garnered seven interceptions and 13 sacks, is led by middle linebacker LeGrand Toia with 25 tackles and defensive tackle McKay Murray with 21 tackles, 9.5 for lost yardage. Cornerback Keilan Benjamin and strong safety Jordan Preator have two interceptions each.
Senior fullback Joe Protheroe headlined another strong group of ball carriers in Cal Poly’s Spread Triple Option, but likely is sidelined the rest of the 2017 season with an injury. In becoming Cal Poly’s 20th 1,000-yard rusher a year ago, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and is No. 8 on the career rushing chart with 2,461 yards. Jared Mohamed, another senior, also returns after collecting 343 yards in 2016. The group of slot backs features all-purpose player Kyle Lewis (591 rushing yards and six TDs, team-leading 22 catches for 375 yards and four scores in 2016).
Jenkins started one game in 2015 against Portland State and appeared in four games last season with one incomplete pass and one carry for two yards. He completed nine of 16 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Northern Iowa, the most passing yards by a Mustang quarterback since Tony Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns against South Dakota in 2009. Jenkins likely is lost for the season as well with an injury.
Two of last year’s five starting offensive linemen are back in junior left guard Harry Whitson and center Joey Kuperman -- the other three probable starters played all 12 games a year ago -- and the Mustangs’ wide receiving corps is led by sophomores J.J. Koski (18 catches in 2016) and Jake Smeltzer (five). Protheroe and Kuperman landed on the 2017 All-Big Sky Preseason Team.
On defense, Cal Poly returns all four starters in the secondary, but three of the four linebackers and one of the linemen need to be replaced. The good news is that Charlie Davis and R.J. Mazolewski, both of whom played in the first three games of 2016 before suffering season-ending injuries, are back and healthy. Anders Turner and Jayson Lee, who combined for five starts a year ago, return as well, and Mason Montgomery and Darren Adjei each played at least 11 games last fall.
The secondary features safeties B.J. Nard, Kitu Humphrey, Carter Nichols and Aaron Johnson and cornerbacks Dominic Frasch, Jerek Rosales, Kevin Griffin and Kam Dennis. All played at least 11 games in 2016. Nickel back Aaryn Bouzos, who also played all 12 games with two interceptions, returns as well.
Starters Jack Ferguson and Augustino Elisaia anchor the defensive front and the end spot features a battle between L.J. Mealancon and Miles Williams, both of whom played all 12 games in 2016.
The kicking game has both of last year’s kickers back -- Casey Sublette and Alex Vega. Sublette handled most of the chores in 2016, averaging 36.8 yards over 29 punts and making 54 of 56 PATs and all six field goal attempts. Vega, who punted 10 times for a 40.7 average, is best known for his 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener.
Coached by Tim Walsh (ninth season, 50-48, UC Riverside ‘77), Cal Poly began its 98th season of football in 2016 by winning six of its first eight games before losing three of its final four contests, including a 35-21 setback at the hands of San Diego in the opening round of the FCS playoffs, almost three months after a 38-16 triumph in Week Two.
Cal Poly was No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (309.1) in 2013, duplicated the feat in 2014 by averaging 351.8 yards on the ground, broke school and Big Sky records by averaging 387.3 rushing yards per game in 2015 and topped all 121 FCS teams during the regular season again last fall with a 343.5-yard average.
The Mustangs struggled offensively in the first two weeks of the 2017 campaign, averaging just 203 yards on the ground and 264 yards in total offense, before exploding for 543 yards at Northern Iowa and 463 yards at Idaho State. Despite the 0-6 record, the Mustangs enjoy a six-minute advantage in time of possession and lead the Big Sky in rushing (248.2 yards per game), but are just 36 of 100 on third-down plays (36 percent) and have lost 10 fumbles in six games.
In the absence of Protheroe, Mohamed has produced 573 yards, including a trio of 100-yard games. Jenkins completed 28 of 66 passes (42 percent) for 597 yards and eight touchdowns in five games prior to the injury. Koski is the top receiver with 14 catches for 243 yards and three scores. Lewis has 11 receptions for 328 yards and four TDs.
Defensive leaders for the Mustangs six games into the season are senior linebacker Mason Montgomery (65 tackles, 17 against San Jose State, 14 at Northern Iowa and 10 at Southern Utah) and sophomore linebacker Jayson Lee (44 tackles). Sophomore safety Kitu Humphrey, junior cornerback Dominic Frasch and sophomore safety Mark Reza have the only Mustang interceptions for Cal Poly, which has logged 41 tackles for lost yardage (13 sacks).
The Mustangs are 0-6 for the first time since the 1965 squad lost its final six games. The 1964 team went 0-10. The loss to Northern Arizona was Cal Poly’s first in a conference home opener since 2007 when the Mustangs fell 31-28 to North Dakota State. Cal Poly was 5-0 in Big Sky home openers after winning its last four in the Great West.
The series between Cal Poly and Weber State dating back to 1995 is all knotted up at 6-6. The Mustangs won three straight before the Wildcats snapped the string with a 22-16 triumph a year ago in Ogden. Weber State scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter, snapping a 16-16 tie, and two succeeding Cal Poly drives were unsuccessful. Tim Walsh is 9-7 against Weber State, including a 6-5 mark while he was head coach at Portland State, while Hill is 1-1 against Cal Poly.
Co-champion of the Big Sky in 2008, the Wildcats posted a combined 24-45 record over the next six years, including a 2-9 mark in 2012 and 2-10 in both 2013 and 2014, but were 6-5 in 2015, 7-5 in 2016 en route to a spot in the FCS playoffs and 4-2 so far this fall. Weber State also claimed Big Sky titles in 1965 and 1968 and have made five Football Championship Subdivision playoff appearances.
Hill was a longtime assistant coach at Utah (2000-13), the last nine as cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator, before he was hired as head coach at Weber State in December 2013. He played college football at Ricks Junior College and Utah, leading the Mountain West interceptions as a senior. Hill played briefly in the XFL and signed free agent contracts with the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
Weber State has produced one Walter Payton Award winner -- former Arroyo Grande High School standout Jamie Martin, who still holds numerous passing records and, despite not being drafted, played 16 seasons (1993-2008) in the NFL with the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked by head coaches and media this summer to finish fourth in the 13-team Big Sky. North Dakota and Eastern Washington shared the conference title in 2016 with 8-0 marks. North Dakota was ranked No. 1 by both the media and coaches to repeat this season, followed by Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona.
The Mustangs claimed four Great West Conference titles in the eight-year history of the league (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011) before moving to the Big Sky in 2012 and have earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
The Mustangs have won 60 of their last 80 home contests (75 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 98 of its last 167 games (60 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 45 and 39 of 83 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 16 years.
Cal Poly, which plays three of its next four games at home, visits UC Davis in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe next week. The Saturday afternoon game kicks off at 4:05 p.m.