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Cal Poly heads to UC Davis on Saturday for Battle of the Golden - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Cal Poly heads to UC Davis on Saturday for Battle of the Golden Horseshoe

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Cal Poly (0-7, 0-4 Big Sky), which has dropped Big Sky games to Northern Arizona, Idaho State, Southern Utah and Weber State and has the school’s longest losing streak in over 50 years, continues conference play Saturday afternoon with the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe game against arch rival UC Davis (3-4, 1-3 Big Sky) inside Aggie Stadium (10,849) at Davis.

Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. PDT. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst). Pregame show starts at 3:30 p.m. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.

Cal Poly 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. UC Davis is still seeking its first FCS playoff berth after elevating its program from Division II to Division I in 2007. 

The Mustangs have struggled in 2017, losing their first seven games for the first time since the 1964 squad went 0-10. The numbers on offense are down compared to 2016 while the defense has held steady, improving in some categories such as points allowed (28.9 compared to 32.8) and total defense (404.3 yards per game compared to 405.5). The 2017 squad has already equalled the number of sacks compiled by last year’s team (15).

Offensively, Cal Poly is averaging 227.9 yards rushing (343.5 a year ago), still No. 2 in the Big Sky, 343.1 yards in total offense (471.3 in 2016) and 18.0 points a contest (34.7 a year ago).

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 in the season opener. 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 loss to the Lumberjacks 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 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. Three 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. 

Last week, Weber State held Cal Poly to 106 rushing yards, the lowest total since 2009 when North Dakota allowed just 62 yards on the ground, in a 17-3 victory. Last time Cal Poly was held without a touchdown was in 2000 when Montana won 53-3.

Under first-year head coach Dan Hawkins, UC Davis welcomed back 46 letter winners, including 13 starters (seven on offense, six on defense), to Fall Camp in early August. Heading the list of veterans are wide receiver Keelan Doss (66 catches, 911 yards, 10 TDs in 2016), running back Derek Baljeu (24 receptions, 167 yards, two TDs from fullback position in 2015 en route to honorable mention All-Big Sky) and safety Keleen Culberson (47 tackles, 11 pass breakups in 2016).

UC Davis opened its 2017 season with a 38-17 loss at San Diego State, then posted wins over San Diego 35-7 and Portland State 37-14 in a non-conference game. The Aggies, however, are just 1-3 in Big Sky games, defeating North Dakota 48-24 and falling to Weber State 41-3, Eastern Washington 41-38 and Northern Arizona 45-31.

UC Davis is No. 10 in the nation in passing offense, averaging 330.9 yards per game. The Aggies also are No. 4 in completion percentage (68.1), No. 5 in blocked punts with two and No. 13 in total offense (463.0).

For the season, quarterback Jake Maier has completed 69.5 percent of his passes (178 of 256) for 2,216 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions. Doss has already equalled last season’s total for receptions with 66, netting 976 yards and seven scores. Wesley Preece has 23 catches for 375 yards and four touchdowns. Top Aggie rusher is Justin Williams with 366 yards and three scores. Defensively, linebacker Ryan Bua has 47 tackles (23 solo) and has recovered three fumbles. Lineman Terrell Cloud has three sacks and 5.5 tackles for lost yardage while defensive back Vincent White has 10 pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.

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).

Quarterback Khaleel 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 returned 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, 50-49, 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.

In the absence of Protheroe, senior fullback Jared Mohamed has produced 603 yards, including a trio of 100-yard games. Redshirt freshman Jake Jeffrey has replaced Jenkins as the Mustangs’ signal caller and has completed 18 of 41 passes for 210 yards. Both Mohamed and Jeffrey are still in search of their first touchdowns of 2017. Sophomore J.J. Koski is the top receiver with 15 catches for 255 yards and three scores. Senior Kyle Lewis has 12 receptions for 325 yards and four TDs.

Defensive leaders for the Mustangs seven games into the season are senior linebacker Mason Montgomery (72 tackles, 17 against San Jose State, 14 at Northern Iowa and 10 at Southern Utah) and Mazolewski (50 tackles). Sophomore safety Kitu Humphrey has a pair of interceptions this season for Cal Poly, which has logged 44 tackles for lost yardage, including 15 sacks.

The series is all tied up at 20-20-2 after Cal Poly earned a 21-16 victory last season in Alex G. Spanos Stadium. Senior quarterback Dano Graves ran for a pair of touchdowns and junior slot back Kyle Lewis sealed the verdict with a 91-yard scoring romp with 2:54 to play.

First game of the series was played in 1939 and the two teams have met every year since 1978. Tim Walsh is 9-9 against UC Davis -- 1-3 while coaching at Sonoma State, 4-2 while at Portland State and 4-4 at Cal Poly -- while Dan Hawkins is 0-0 against Cal Poly. Against the Aggies, the Mustangs are 12-9 at home and 8-11-2 in Davis.

Although the two teams are meeting for the 43rd time, the official “Battle for the Golden Horseshoe” was established in 2004 as the student-run spirit clubs from both schools came together to sponsor a perpetual trophy that resides with the team that wins each year. The horseshoe-shaped trophy signifies the agricultural influence at both universities. Since the trophy was created in 2004, Cal Poly leads the series, 7-6.

The visiting team won the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe three straight years before Cal Poly ended the run with last year’s victory at home.

Hawkins, a UC Davis alum (1984), was hired to replace Ron Gould as Aggie head coach on Nov. 28, 2016. He compiled a 56-11 mark in five seasons as head coach at Boise State (2001-05) and also coached at Colorado for five years (2006-10) before becoming an analyst on ESPN. He has coached 13 teams around the world, including the Montreal Alouettes, Vienna Vikings, Willamette, Sonoma State, College of the Siskiyous and Christian Brothers High School.

UC Davis has won 30 conference titles, all but one in Division II, claiming the Great West crown in 2009, and has made 19 NCAA postseason appearances, all in Division II. The Aggies are 504-416-33 in 98 seasons of football.

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 81 home contests (74 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 98 of its last 168 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.

After the UC Davis contest, Cal Poly will play back-to-back Big Sky games at home. The Mustangs host Portland State for Homecoming on Nov. 4 and in-state rival Sacramento State on Nov. 11. Both contests kick off at 6:05 p.m. inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

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