Cal Poly to Host UC Davis in Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Saturday

Cal Poly to Host UC Davis in Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Saturday


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky), ranked in the top 25 for the fourth straight week and tied for fourth place with Montana in the Big Sky Conference behind three unbeaten teams, plays at home for the first time in nearly a month Saturday night, hosting UC Davis (2-5, 1-3 Big Sky) in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Mustang Family Weekend and Homecoming.

The Mustangs and Aggies kick off at 6:05 p.m. PDT inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075) and the game will be broadcast live by ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Ramses Barden (analyst). Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at

UC Davis, under fourth-year head coach Ron Gould, snapped a four-game losing streak last weekend with a 34-21 victory over Northern Colorado as Manusamoa Luuga rushed for two touchdowns and cornerback Isaiah Olave returned an interception 11 yards for the clinching score with 2:55 to play. A week after holding Southern Utah to just 260 total yards, the Aggies limited Northern Colorado to 269 total yards, including just 103 on the ground. Quarterback Ben Scott completed 19 of 24 passes for 194 yards and Keelan Doss was on the receiving end of eight throws.

Following a season-opening 53-28 loss to Oregon, UC Davis bounced back with a 52-35 triumph over Southern Oregon before losing four straight to Wyoming, Weber State, Eastern Washington and Southern Utah.

Cal Poly, which moved within two spots of reaching the top 25 in both the STATS media and FCS coaches polls following its win over then-No. 6-ranked South Dakota State five weeks ago, cracked the Top 25 for the first time this season with its 42-41 Big Sky-opening win over Montana on Sept. 24. Ranked No. 16 by the media and 18th by the coaches after the win over the Griz, Cal Poly fell to Nos. 21 and 22, respectively, following a 31-24 loss at North Dakota, moved back into the top 20 at Nos. 19 (media) and 20 (coaches) after the bye week and currently is ranked No. 17 by the media and No. 18 by the coaches.

Kyle Lewis (pictured above), Kori Garcia and Joe Protheroe all surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground and Cal Poly produced 658 yards in total offense, never punted and committed just one penalty en route to a 55-35 Big Sky victory over Portland State last week at Providence Park. Lewis scored twice and rushed for 158 yards, Garcia added 141 yards and one score in addition to a receiving score and Protheroe produced 101 yards and two touchdowns for the Mustangs, who earned the 500th win in program history. After the two teams both scored a pair of touchdowns in the opening 17 minutes, Cal Poly scored the next three touchdowns to establish control of the game, leading by two or three possessions the rest of the way. Quarterback Dano Graves completed 12 of 13 passes for 166 yards and three scores, his third straight game with three touchdown passes, for the Mustangs, who compiled 462 yards on the ground, averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

Utilizing a pro-set offense and 4-3 defense, UC Davis is averaging 29 points and 386 yards in total offense (137 rushing, 249 passing) while giving up 40 points and 467 yards on defense (183 rushing, 284 passing).

Luuga has rushed for 605 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games and Joshua Kelley has added 344 yards and three scores. Scott has completed 63 percent of his passes (122 of 195) for 1,492 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions. Six Aggies have 10 or more catches, led by Doss with 42 for 494 yards and four scores. UC Davis has scored three times on defense or special teams (Olave by interception, Kelley by a 91-yard kickoff return and Keleen Culberson by a 21-yard fumble return).

Despite compiling advantages of 23-18 in first downs, 445-363 in total offense and 36:09 to 23:51 in time of possession, Cal Poly fell 30-27 in overtime at Nevada. The Mustangs bounced back with a 38-16 triumph over San Diego in their home opener, outscoring the Toreros 28-3 in the final 31 minutes of the game to erase a 13-10 deficit.

At South Dakota State, Protheroe earned his third consecutive 100-yard game, posting career highs of 31 carries and 217 yards, and Graves completed nine of 11 passes for 161 yards. Kyle Lewis ran for 66 yards and one touchdown and caught five passes, one for another score, while junior safety Aaryn Bouzos sealed the win with an interception just inside the two-minute mark.

The Mustangs returned home to upset No. 6 Montana 42-41. Graves passed for three touchdowns and ran for another score to lead Cal Poly to its third straight win over the Grizzlies. He completed six of 10 passes for 157 yards, including scoring strikes to Kory Fox, Protheroe and Lewis, and ran 20 yards for a second-quarter touchdown. The scoring pass to Lewis with 4:29 to play, coupled with Casey Sublette's PAT kick, gave the Mustangs a 42-41 lead. Montana missed a 48-yard field goal attempt with 1:55 to play and, after getting the ball back with one second remaining, fumbled the sixth lateral after a short forward pass, ending the game.

Cal Poly's three-game winning streak was snapped by North Dakota as the Fighting Hawks rallied from a 14-10 third quarter deficit and intercepted a pass in the end zone in the final two minutes. Graves completed his first seven pass attempts of the game and finished 15 of 21 for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Kyle Lewis caught four passes for 33 yards. Cal Poly's ground game was held to just 202 yards by North Dakota's defense, the best in the Big Sky against the rush, and the Mustangs did not score a touchdown on the ground for the first time in four years.

Coached by Tim Walsh (eighth season, 47-39, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly began its 98th season of football with 48 returning lettermen, including 13 who started at least three games a year ago, seven on offense and six on defense.

Quarterback Chris Brown, who rushed and passed for over 3,000 yards each in his Mustang career, is gone. Graves, who utilized his redshirt year last fall after playing in 11 games as a sophomore and junior, rushing for 536 yards and passing for 499 more, takes over the signal-calling duties. The Folsom High School graduate started five games as a sophomore in 2013 and was Brown's backup as a junior in 2014.

Cal Poly's strength offensively is in its group of running backs as well as the offensive line. Joining Graves in the offensive backfield are Joe Protheroe (779 yards, six touchdowns, first-team All-Big Sky) and Jared Mohamed (463 yards, three touchdowns) along with slot backs Kori Garcia (1,819 yards, 12 touchdowns and 27 catches in last two seasons combined, All-Big Sky second team in 2014, All-Big Sky third team in 2015) and DJ Peluso (278 yards rushing, eight catches in 2015). Another slot back, Kyle Lewis, scored four times at Southern Utah, was one of four 100-yard rushers in that game for Cal Poly, and finished the year with 336 yards and six scores.

The offensive line needed to replace center Stephen Sippel and right tackle Weston Walker, both members of the 2016 National Football Foundation's Hampshire Honor Society. Joey Kuperman (11 starts at right guard in 2015, All-Big Sky honorable mention) moves to center this fall. Matt Fisher (11 starts in 2015) returns at left tackle while Nick Enriquez (22 starts over last two seasons) moves from left guard to right tackle.

Two linebackers and three defensive backs graduated, but Walsh is confident with their replacements on the defensive side of the ball. In cornerbacks Jerek Rosales and Kevin Griffin, Walsh has a pair of 6-1 corners for the first time in his eight seasons at Cal Poly. B.J. Nard, who intercepted three passes at Montana in 2015, returns at right safety, joined by redshirt freshman Kitu Humphrey or sophomore Aaron Johnson at left safety. Aaryn Bouzos, who played all 11 games a year ago, backs up the safeties as well.

Josh Letuligasenoa, who sat out the 2015 campaign, returns for his final season and, after being a defensive end for two years, becomes a rush linebacker in the 3-4 defensive scheme this fall. Joseph Gigantino III (75 tackles, 9.5 TFLs) moves from Sam to Mike, and filling the outside linebacker positions will be R.J. Mazolewski (71 tackles, 7.5 TFLs) and Chris Santini (nine tackles, All-Big Sky honorable mention on special teams). Mazolewski, however, suffered a season-ending injury in the San Diego game.

The defensive front is anchored by tackles Augustino Elisaia (11 starts at nose tackle, 15 tackles in 2015) and Marcus Paige-Allen (65 tackles over last two seasons combined, All-Big Sky third team in 2014, All-Big Sky honorable mention in 2015) along with end Kelly Shepard (41 tackles, 11 starts in 2015).

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 and broke school and Big Sky records by averaging 387.3 yards per game on the ground last fall.

The 2016 Mustangs are currently ranked No. 2 in rushing (352.5 yards per game) and also sport national rankings of No. 1 in passing efficiency, No. 4 in passing yards per completion, No. 4 in sacks allowed (3), No. 5 in third-down conversions and No. 5 in total offense. Cal Poly's defense also has put up some vastly improved numbers in its first five games, ranked No. 21 in rushing defense and No. 46 in total defense.

Cal Poly opened the 2015 campaign with a 20-19 win at Montana as Alex Vega kicked a 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. The following week, the Mustangs battled Arizona State to a 21-21 draw in the first 52 minutes before the Sun Devils scored two late touchdowns for the 35-21 triumph.

But the Mustangs let a 21-13 third-quarter lead get away against Portland State and were within two points, 33-31, midway through the third quarter at Southern Utah. In those two games, Cal Poly lost nine fumbles. The top three teams in the Big Sky last fall were the champion Thunderbirds, runner-up Vikings and third-place Montana.

Gould (11-30, Oregon '88) welcomed back 48 lettermen, including 23 offensive and defensive starters, off last year's team which went 2-9 overall for the second straight year and finished 11th in the Big Sky Conference at 2-6.

A 1988 graduate of Oregon, Gould was an assistant coach at Cal for 16 seasons before replacing Bob Biggs as UC Davis head coach in December 2012. A defensive back for the Ducks, Gould was a graduate assistant at Oregon (1990-91) and coached the defensive backs at Portland State (in 1992 under Tim Walsh) and Boise State (1993-96) before moving on to Cal.

UC Davis leads the series 20-19-2. First game of the series was played in 1939 and the two teams have met every year since 1978. Walsh is 8-9 against UC Davis -- 1-3 while coaching at Sonoma State, 4-2 while at Portland State and 3-4 at Cal Poly -- while Gould is 1-2 against Cal Poly. Against the Aggies, the Mustangs are 11-9 at home and 8-11-2 in Davis.

Although the two teams are meeting for the 41st 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, the series is even at 6-6.

UC Davis snapped Cal Poly's five-game winning streak and effectively knocked the Mustangs out of the FCS playoff picture with a 48-35 triumph in 2014 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The Mustangs answered with a 55-38 triumph a year ago at Aggie Stadium as quarterback Chris Brown scored a touchdown by run, pass and receiving for the second time in his career. Brown surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year, rushing for 160 yards on 17 carries, and completed six of nine passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns – all to Willie Tucker spanning 56, 65 and 5 yards. Cal Poly amassed a season-high 674 yards in total offense, rushing for 491 yards and passing for 183 more.

The visiting team has won the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe three straight years.

Cal Poly's offensive leaders through six games are Protheroe, No. 3 in the FCS and No. 1 in the Big Sky averaging 131.6 rushing yards a game; Garcia (485 yards, 7.0 per carry, three scores); Graves, No. 1 in the Big Sky in passing efficiency, completing 52 of 75 passes for 895 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 345 rushing yards and four scores; and Lewis with 342 rushing yards and four touchdowns along with 15 catches for 293 yards and three scores. Aaryn Bouzos has two interceptions and outside linebacker Chris Santini  leads the Mustangs with 44 tackles, 6.5 for lost yardage and 1.5 sacks.

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 ninth in the 13-team Big Sky. Northern Arizona was picked by both the coaches and media to win the Big Sky crown.

The Mustangs have won 58 of their last 74 home contests (78 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 95 of its last 155 contests (62 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 19 of its last 38 and 38 of 78 on the road while producing 11 winning seasons in the last 15 years.

Cal Poly visits Sacramento State for another Big Sky contest next Saturday at 6:05 p.m.