Cal Poly (0-1, 0-0 Big Sky), which opened its 2018 season last week with a 49-3 loss against top-ranked and six-time NCAA?Division I?Football Championship Subdivision national champion North Dakota State, plays its first home game Saturday night against fellow Big Sky Conference member and Nos. 10/13-ranked Weber State (0-1, 0-0 Big Sky) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11.075).
Kickoff for the non-conference matchup is set for 6:05 p.m. PDT and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN?Radio 1280 AM and 101.7 FM with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst).
After capturing its fourth FCS playoff berth in 2016 and finishing 7-5 overall and tied for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference, Cal Poly slipped to 1-10 and 12th place in 2017. As many as eight starters missed games due to injuries, including quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and fullback Joe Protheroe. Four of the six team captains suffered season-ending injuries.
Jenkins, Protheroe, offensive linemen Harry Whitson, Zach Shallcross and Sam Ogee and defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Aaron Johnson and Carter Nichols all return this fall, bolstering hopes for a turnaround from the team that tied the school record for losses in a season. Jenkins, however, reinjured his left knee last week against the Bison.
North Dakota State held Cal Poly to just one field goal and 82 yards rushing, the second time the Mustangs have been held under 100 yards on the ground in a game for just the second time in Tim Walsh’s 10 seasons as head coach. The Bison accumulated advantages of 22-10 in first downs and 512-207 in total offense and sacked Mustang quarterbacks five times, though Cal Poly did produce a two-minute advantage in time of possession. Casey Sublette kicked a career-long 50-yard field goal in the first quarter for the only Mustang points of the game.
Weber State jumped to a 10-0 lead in the first 10 minutes at Utah last Thursday night before surrendering the final 41 points of the contest in a 41-10 loss. The Wildcats, who shared the Big Sky title with Southern Utah last fall, were held to three first downs and 59 total yards for the game and were forced to punt 12 times, converting just one of their 15 third-down plays.
Fourteen Wildcat starters return — seven on offense and seven on defense — led by All-American and two-time Big Sky selection Iosua Opeta on the offensive line and All-American and first-team All-Big Sky honoree LeGrand Toia in the linebacker corps. Toia led the Wildcats with 79 tackles a year ago. Weber State finished 11-3 last fall, reaching the quarterfinal round of the NCAA?Division I?Football Championship Subdivision playoffs with wins over Western Illinois and Southern Utah before falling to top-seeded and FCS runner-up James Madison.
Protheroe headlines another strong group of Mustang ball carriers in Cal Poly’s Spread Triple Option. Granted a medical redshirt after playing less than six quarters a year ago, Protheroe entered his final collegiate campaign No. 5 on the Mustangs’ career rushing chart with 2,164 yards. In becoming Cal Poly’s 20th 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for 779 yards as a sophomore in 2015 and, with 139 yards on a career-high 39 carries against Colgate in the 2017 opener, enters the 2018 season with 14 career 100-yard games.
Quarterback Khaleel Jenkins passed for 597 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards and four more scores in five starts before suffering a season-ending injury in late September. He completed nine of 16 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Northern Iowa, the most passing yards by a Mustang quarterback in a single game since Tony Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns against South Dakota in 2009.
Joining Protheroe among the corps of ball carriers this fall are sophomores Broc Mortensen (206 yards as a true freshman in 2017) and Chuby Dunu (215 yards), junior Trey Nahhas, senior Malcolm Davis (99 yards) and redshirt freshman Duy Tran-Sampson.
Whitson, who played at left guard during his first three seasons as a Mustang, moves to center to replace Joey Kuperman this fall. Whitson is one of five offensive linemen who started at least four games a year ago. The others are tackles Ogee (six starts) and Shallcross (eight starts) and guards Tyler Whisenhunt 11 starts) and Paul Trujillo-Langdon (four starts).
On defense, the entire front three and half of the four linebackers needed to be replaced. Seniors Anders Turner (32 tackles in 2016) and Jayson?Lee (60 tackles in 2017) anchor the linebacking corps. The secondary is the most experienced group, led by six veterans, the return of Nichols from injury and the addition of transfer Kevin Howell from Nevada.
Casey Sublette, who handled all kicking duties in 2017, returns, backed up by Alex Vega. Both are seniors. Vega kicked a 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener.
Coached by Tim Walsh (51-53, UC Riverside ’77), Cal Poly’s football program is celebrating a trio of milestones this fall. The Mustangs are playing their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level. In addition, Walsh is in his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
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 in 2016 with a 343.5-yard average. The four-year run atop the FCS in team rushing ended last fall as the Mustangs averaged just 231.7 yards per contest on the ground.
The series between Cal Poly and Weber State dating back to 1995 was all knotted up at 6-6 before the Wildcats earned a 17-3 Big Sky victory over the Mustangs a year ago in San Luis Obispo. The Mustangs won three straight before the Wildcats snapped the string with a 22-15 triumph two years ago in Ogden.
In last year’s contest, quarterback Stefan Cantwell passed for two touchdowns and No. 23 Weber State forced four turnovers en route to the 17-3 victory. Cantwell, who threw for 182 yards, connected with David Jones on a 25-yard scoring pass midway through the first quarter and with Drew Batchelor for a 35-yard touchdown play six seconds into the final period. Trey Tuttle kicked a 37-yard field goal for Weber State midway through the third period and Casey Sublette prevented Cal Poly from being shut out, connecting on a 43-yard field goal with 1:17 to play in the first half.
Cal Poly was held to just 106 rushing yards and 73 yards passing for 179 yards of total offense. Weber State finished with 340 total yards, 158 on the ground and 182 through the air.
Tim Walsh is 9-8 against Weber State, including a 6-5 mark while he was head coach at Portland State, while Weber State head coach Jay Hill is 2-1 against Cal Poly.
Co-champion of the Big Sky in both 2008 and 2017, the Wildcats posted a combined 24-45 record from 2009-14, 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 11-3 last fall. Weber State also claimed Big Sky titles in 1965 and 1968 and have made six 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 this summer to finish 10th (coaches) and 11th (media) in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the Big Sky crown in 2018. Southern Utah and Weber State shared the conference title in 2017 with 7-1 marks.
The Big Sky loses North Dakota in its lineup this fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule for two more years. Idaho returns to the Big Sky this fall after an 18-year run in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
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 61 of their last 83 home contests (73 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 99 of its last 173 games (58 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 48 and 39 of 86 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 17 years.
Cal Poly remains home next week, entertaining Ivy League member Brown on Friday, Sept. 14, at 7:05 p.m.
-Provided by Cal Poly