Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky), which put together a 21-point rally against Montana State two weeks ago and 24 unanswered points versus UC Davis last week, only to lose both contests, returns home for three of its next four Big Sky Conference games, beginning with North Dakota on Saturday inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075).
Cal Poly racked up 607 yards of total offense in a season-opening 52-34 win over San Diego, led by redshirt freshman Jalen Hamler and sophomore fullback Duy Tran-Sampson. In his first game in a Mustang uniform, Hamler passed for 221 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 96 yards and two more scores en route to ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors. Tran-Sampson, who had just one carry for four yards as a redshirt freshman behind record-breaker Joe Protheroe a year ago, sprinted 87 yards on his first carry of 2019 for a touchdown and finished with 172 yards and two scores, averaging 11.5 yards per carry.
Opening a three-game September road trip in Ogden, Utah, on Sept. 7, the Mustangs were held to 164 rushing yards and had the ball for just 24 minutes, 45 seconds in a 41-24 setback versus Weber State. Playing its second game ever against a Pac-12 school four weeks ago, Cal Poly fell 45-7 at Oregon State. Tran-Sampson rushed for 137 yards on 29 carries and Hamler hit redshirt freshman wide receiver Xavier Moore with an eight-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7. The Beavers scored 38 unanswered points to win going away.
In a Big Sky-opening 24-21 win at Southern Utah on Sept. 28, Hamler ran for two scores, Jake Jeffrey added another scoring run and Colton Theaker connected on a 36-yard field goal. The Thunderbirds had a chance to send the game into overtime, but a 36-yard field goal attempt with 2:10 to play hit the left upright and Cal Poly was able to run out the clock. Montana State let a 21-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but Travis Jonsen ran nine yards in overtime as the Bobcats beat the Mustangs 34-28. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for nearly 39 minutes, including a 94-yard, 20-play drive that lasted 11 minutes, 40 seconds in the first quarter.
Last week, UC Davis scored the first 34 points of the game and Cal Poly answered with 24 points of its own and drove to the Aggie 16-yard line on its next possession before UC Davis turned the Mustangs away with two scores in the final 11 minutes. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for over 33 minutes, but lost the turnover battle 3-0, punted eight times, did not record any sacks and was penalized a season-high 12 times for 102 yards in the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe.
North Dakota, a former Big Sky member and currently an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision independent on its way to the Missouri Valley Football Conference next year, allowed 34 unanswered points as Idaho State rallied from an early 7-0 deficit for a 55-20 triumph last week in Pocatello, Idaho. The Bengals accumulated 607 yards of total offense. Fighting Hawks quarterback Nate Ketteringham completed 33 of 56 passes for 360 yards and two scores but was intercepted twice and North Dakota was held to 92 rushing yards. Garrett Maag and Brock Boltman each caught seven passes.
Receiving votes in early-season polls, North Dakota opened 2019 with a 47-7 win over Drake. The Fighting Hawks then faced four consecutive top-25 teams, defeating No. 24 Sam Houston State and No. 12 UC Davis but falling to No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 21 Eastern Washington. The Fighting Hawks have not yet won or lost two straight games this season.
Under sixth-year head coach Bubba Schweigert (33-30, Jamestown ‘85), North Dakota returned a total of 32 lettermen, including 14 starters — eight on offense and six on defense — off last year’s squad which posted a 6-5 mark. The Fighting Hawks are led by senior inside linebacker Donnell Rodgers (team-leading 72 tackles in 2018), Ketteringham (158 of 289 passes, 1,835 yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) and wide receiver Noah Wanzek (52 catches, 685 yards, six TDs).
This season, Ketteringham has completed 100 of 164 passes for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns in four games and Wanzek (36 catches, 446 yards, two TDs) and Maag (32-342-3) are hi favorite targets. The running attack is paced by James Johannesson, who has rushed for 286 yards and five touchdowns in six contests.
North Dakota, which runs a multiple-set offense and 3-4 defense, averages 373 yards and 27 points per game, rushing for 123 yards and passing for 250 yards each contest. The Fighting Hawks have allowed 384 yards and 32 points a game, including 180 yards on the ground and 204 through the air. North Dakota is fourth in the nation in red zone offense (.947), ninth in punt returns defense (2.50), 20th with seven interceptions, 23rd in sacks allowed (8) and 39th in passing offense (250.2 yards per game).
Cal Poly and North Dakota are meeting for the eighth time Saturday. The Fighting Hawks have won the last two meetings — 45-21 in 2015 in San Luis Obispo and 31-24 in 2016 at Grand Forks, N.D. North Dakota owns a 4-3 advantage in the series. First meeting between the Mustangs and North Dakota was in the 1972 Camellia Bowl at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, won by North Dakota 38-21. Tim Walsh is 3-3 against North Dakota while Bubba Schweigert is 2-0 against Cal Poly. The Mustangs are 1-1 against the Fighting Hawks in San Luis Obispo and 2-2 in Grand Forks.
North Dakota, which claims among its most famous alumni former L.A. Lakers head coach Phil Jackson and kicker Errol Mann, was NCAA Division II national champion in 2001. The Fighting Hawks earned 13 playoff berths in Division II and one so far in Division I (2016), claimed 24 North Central Conference championships and one each in the Great West (2011) and Big Sky (2016) conferences.
Schweigert was defensive coordinator at North Dakota from 1997-2003 and also has served as secondary coach (1990-96) and graduate assistant (1989-90) at North Dakota. He compiled a 22-21 mark as head coach for four seasons at Minnesota Duluth and also was defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois from 2008-13.
The Mustangs have won 65 of their last 91 home contests (71 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 106 of its last 189 games (56 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 23 of its last 56 and 42 of 94 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years.
Next week, Cal Poly hosts Sacramento State on Mustang Family Weekend. Kickoff on Oct. 26 is set for 5:05 p.m.
-Provided by Cal Poly