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Homecoming: Cal Poly to Host Portland St. on Mustang Family Weekend

Homecoming: Cal Poly to Host Portland St. on Mustang Family Weekend



SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky), which in its first six games of the 2015 season faced five FCS teams currently or previously ranked in the national polls along with former top 25-ranked Arizona State of the FBS, plays its seventh consecutive ranked opponent this week and continues Big Sky Conference play Saturday night against No. 13/14 Portland State (5-1, 2-1 Big Sky) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075).

The Vikings, 12-23 overall the past three seasons, including a 7-17 mark in Big Sky games, have turned their fortunes around in 2015 under new head coach Bruce Barnum. With wins over Washington State (24-17) and North Texas (66-7), Portland State is the first FCS team in eight years to win twice against FBS schools in the same season.

Saturday's kickoff for Cal Poly's Mustang Family Weekend and Homecoming Game is set for 6:05 p.m. PDT and the contest will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Tom Barket calling the play-by-play and Ramses Barden serving as an analyst. Links for video and audio streams as well as live stats are available at

Portland State, ranked No. 14 in the media poll and No. 13 in the FCS Coaches Poll this week, overcame early 7-0 and 14-7 deficits by compiling 682 total yards, including 467 on the ground, in a 59-42 triumph over Montana State last week. Led by running back David Jones (285 yards on 23 carries, three touchdowns), the Vikings scored touchdowns on their first eight possessions, compiled 32 first downs, punted just once and held the ball for 38 minutes, 11 seconds while converting 11 of 14 third-down plays.

Portland State's only loss of the season was to North Dakota 19-17 at home on Oct. 3. In addition to Washington State, North Texas and Montana State, the Vikings own victories over Idaho State (34-14) and Western Oregon (31-0).

Cal Poly, ranked as high as No. 17 by the media and No. 18 by the coaches before a 45-28 loss at Montana State in late September, is coming off a bye week. The Mustangs, who have beaten Portland State after bye weeks each of the last two seasons, dropped a 42-41 overtime decision at Eastern Washington two weeks ago, letting a trio of 15-point leads slip away as the three-time defending Big Sky champion Eagles scored 22 points in the fourth quarter to force the extra period. Cal Poly produced advantages of 32-24 in first downs, 503-146 in rushing yards, 519-370 in total offense and 36:09 to 23:51 in time of possession, converting nine of 17 third-down plays and four of five on fourth down.

Coached by Tim Walsh (seventh season, 41-34, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly began its 97th season of football with 42 returning lettermen,  including  16 who started at least five games a year ago, nine on offense and seven on defense. Senior quarterback Chris Brown heads the list of veterans after rushing for 1,265 yards, passing for 1,465 yards and accounting for 30 touchdowns a year ago.

Other top returnees include junior slot back Kori Garcia (1,039 yards rushing, 17 receptions in 2014), senior center Stephen Sippel, senior offensive tackle Weston Walker, junior defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen (40 tackles), senior linebacker Burton De Koning (43 tackles) and senior cornerbacks Chris Fletcher (68 tackles, 10 breakups) and Karlton Dennis (44 tackles, three interceptions).

A year ago, Cal Poly beat Montana 41-21 as Brown rushed for 226 yards, a school record for a quarterback, and two touchdowns. That was part of a five-game winning streak that propelled the Mustangs to a 6-3 mark and in position to capture the Big Sky title and a spot in the FCS playoffs. Back-to-back losses to Idaho State and UC Davis, however, dashed those hopes.

Cal Poly football, presented by French Hospital Medical Center, was No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (309.1) in 2013 and duplicated the feat last fall by averaging 351.8 yards on the ground. Cal Poly's 4,221 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns shattered both school records as well as the Big Sky marks it set in 2012 when the Mustangs finished third in the nation in rushing offense.

The Mustangs' Triple Option spread offense netted 470 yards against Portland State, 452 against Southern Utah, 393 at Sacramento State, 421 versus Montana, 376 against Montana State, 425 at Idaho State and 341 against San Diego. Cal Poly compiled at least 450 yards of total offense in each of its last 10 games in the 2014 season.

This fall through six games, Cal Poly is No. 1 again in the FCS in rushing offense (387.0 yards per game), No. 12 in first downs (151), No. 7 in time of possession (34:07), No. 7 in interceptions allowed (2), No. 12 in sacks allowed (5) and No. 11 in turnover margin (+6). Brown is No. 9 in the FCS in rushing yards (702) and No. 5 in rushing touchdowns (9) while senior linebacker Tu'uta Inoke is No. 2 with his four forced fumbles. Junior safety B.J. Nard is No. 11 with his three interceptions.

Coached by Bruce Barnum (first season, 5-1, Eastern Washington '87), Portland State returned 59 lettermen, including 14 offensive and defensive starters, off last year's team which went 3-9 overall and finished tied for 10th place in the Big Sky Conference at 2-6. The Vikings, who fielded their first football team in 1947 and have been members of the Big Sky Conference since 1996, have compiled 29 winning seasons in 68 years and have made one FCS playoff appearance (2000) and nine NCAA postseason appearances.

The Vikings are led offensively by running backs Jones (68 carries, 621 yards, 9.1 yards per carry, 5 TDs) and Nate Tago (53 carries, 231 yards, six TDs), quarterback Alex Kuresa (338 rushing yards, 52 of 92 for 922 yards and six TDs passing with one interception) and receivers Darnell Adams, Thomas Carter and Paris Penn, each with eight receptions. Patrick Onwuasor leads the Big Sky with four interceptions while Kahlil Dawson returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown against Idaho State. Portland State is averaging 276 rushing yards, 161 passing yards and 39 points per game this season while giving up 126 rushing yards, 192 passing yards and 17 points a contest.

Cal Poly and Portland State are meeting for the 22nd time in football this week. Last year the two teams played a non-conference game in San Luis Obispo and the Mustangs won 42-14 to take an 11-10 advantage in the series as Chris Brown rushed for two touchdowns, passed for another and senior fullback Brandon Howe added two more scores. Brown rushed for 159 yards, Howe added 81 yards and Kori Garcia contributed 103 yards on the ground as the Mustangs amassed 470 total rushing yards, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Portland State was held to just 286 total yards and Cal Poly scored the first 35 points of the game and never looked back, scoring on drives of 67, 88, 87, 85, 72 and 80 yards.

Portland State had won five straight against the Mustangs, including the last three under Walsh (1993, 1998, 1999) before Cal Poly posted a 37-25 triumph three years ago in Alex G. Spanos Stadium, the Mustangs' first season in the Big Sky, and beat the Vikings 38-34 in 2013 at Providence Park. The series started in 1977 with Cal Poly winning the first six meetings. Walsh is 4-1 against Portland State, including a 1-1 mark while head coach at Sonoma State, while Barnum is 0-0 against Cal Poly.

Cal Poly's offensive leaders through six games are Brown with 702 rushing yards and nine scores, fullback Joe Protheroe with 554 yards and four touchdowns and Garcia with 455 yards and four scores. Brown has completed 33 of 68 passes (48.5 percent) for 340 yards and six touchdowns, but has yet to surpass the 100-yard mark in passing in a single game this season. Slot back DJ Peluso has eight receptions, Willie Tucker six and Garcia five for the Mustangs.

Topping the defensive chart in tackles are senior linebacker Tu'uta Inoke with 58 and sophomore linebacker Joseph Gigantino III with 44. Inoke also has forced four fumbles, No. 2 in the FCS, while B.J. Nard's three interceptions, all against Montana on Sept. 5, place him No. 11 in the FCS. Linebacker R.J. Mazolewski and end Logan Mayes each has two sacks.

Cal Poly is averaging 387 yards rushing, 58 yards passing and 445 yards in total offense while scoring 31 points a contest. The 58 points tallied against Idaho State three weeks ago are the most since Cal Poly beat the Bengals 70-14 in 2012.

A year ago, Garcia became the 18th Mustang to surpass 1,000 yards rushing and the second that season. Brown became the first Mustang quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season when he gained 195 yards at Idaho State. Brown also holds the Big Sky single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Old mark of 1,060 was set by Connor Kavanaugh of Portland State in 2011.

The Mustangs were the first team in the Big Sky to produce a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in a single season since 1983 when Nevada accomplished the feat. Cal Poly is the only FCS school to produce two 1,000-yard rushers last season.

Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked by head coaches this summer to finish fourth in the Big Sky and fifth by the media. Montana State was picked by the coaches to win the Big Sky crown; the media chose Eastern Washington.

A year ago, Cal Poly rallied from a 1-3 start to win six of its last eight games and averaged nearly 34 points and 483 yards per contest offensively. The Mustangs defeated perennial Big Sky powers and NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff qualifiers Montana and Montana State on back-to-back Saturdays at home and ended the 2014 campaign with a convincing 34-3 victory against Pioneer League champion San Diego. Montana, Montana State and San Diego all earned FCS playoff berths.

While the offense lost just three starters -- Howe, slot back/return specialist Chris Nicholls and tackle Miles Williams (who has switched to the defensive line) -- the defense spent time at Fall Camp finding suitable replacements for linebackers Nick Dzubnar (school record 167 tackles in 2014) and Cameron Ontko (108 tackles for second straight year) along with safeties Jordan Williams (46 tackles, three interceptions) and Dave Douglas (44 tackles) and linemen Chris Lawrence (28 tackles) and Chris Judge (31 tackles, three sacks). Dzubnar is now a San Diego Charger while Ontko signed with the Calgary Stampeders in September.

A year ago, Cal Poly finished in a tie for fifth place with Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference standings, both with 5-3 marks. Eastern Washington finished first at 7-1 followed by Montana, Montana State and Idaho State, all tied for second at 6-2.

With a 4-1 record at home in 2014, the Mustangs have won 54 of their last 68 home contests. Overall, the Mustangs have won 55 of their last 91 games (62 percent) and 89 of 144 contests (63 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and have won 16 of their last 34 and 35 of 72 on the road (3-4 in 2014, 1-3 in 2015).

Cal Poly captured 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 has earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths in 2005, 2008 and 2012.

Cal Poly, which played four of its first six games on the road this season and will play three of its final five contests at home, continues Big Sky play next week with a 2 p.m. contest at Southern Utah on Saturday, Oct. 31.