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Cal Poly Wraps Up 2015 Season Saturday by Hosting North Dakota

Cal Poly Wraps Up 2015 Season Saturday by Hosting North Dakota


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (4-6, 3-4 Big Sky), which in its first eight games of the 2015 season faced seven FCS teams currently or previously ranked in the national polls along with former top 25-ranked Arizona State of the FBS, plays one more team that was ranked earlier this season, hosting North Dakota (6-4, 4-3 Big Sky) for a Big Sky Conference game inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075).

The season finale for the Mustangs on Saturday kicks off at 6:05 p.m. PST and the Heroes Day 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

North Dakota is coming off a 45-14 win at home against Northern Colorado and is seeking its first NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth, needing one more win to be considered by the selection committee. North Dakota, which elevated its program to the FCS level in 2008, was ranked in both the and FCS Coaches polls after a 4-1 start before suffering consecutive losses to Idaho State, Weber State and Montana. North Dakota defeated Wyoming and Drake to open the year and also have earned victories over UC Davis, Portland State, Montana State and Northern Colorado.

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, lost six of seven games since a season-opening victory at Montana before jumping to a 26-0 lead en route to a 36-14 triumph over Sacramento State two weeks ago. Last week at UC Davis, the Mustangs amassed 674 total yards and 31 first downs, scoring on drives of 64, 75, 68, 99, 65, 74, 90 and 79 yards for a 55-38 victory, Cal Poly's first two-game winning streak of the year. Senior quarterback Chris Brown rushed for 160 yards, passed for 153 more and scored touchdowns via the run, the pass and a reception in a single game for the second time in his Mustang career. He also surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for the second time and now has 1,021 yards in nine games.

North Dakota forced five turnovers, allowed just 275 total yards and accumulated 558 total yards to beat Northern Colorado. Freshman running back John Santiago rushed 12 times for 180 yards, scoring on runs of 49 and 81 yards and boosting his season yardage total to 1,342 yards. Iwarri Smith added 100 yards and Kyle Norberg 80 as North Dakota surpassed the 400-yard mark in rushing for the second straight game. Santiago has rushed for 100 or more yards in seven consecutive Big Sky games and has eight 100-yard games this season. Quarterback Keaton Studsrud completed 14 of 17 passes for 140 yards and one score, capping a 17-play, 98-yard drive in the second quarter. North Dakota's defense has forced nine turnovers in its last two games and is No. 7 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 94.8 yards per game.

Coached by Tim Walsh (seventh season, 42-36, 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 10 games, Cal Poly is No. 1 again in the FCS in rushing offense (410.7 yards per game), No. 3 in first downs (266), No. 6 in total offense (589.9), No. 8 in time of possession (33:23), No. 6 in interceptions allowed (3) and No. 9 in sacks allowed (9). Brown is No. 10 in the FCS in rushing yards per game (113.4) and No. 16 in rushing touchdowns (11) while senior linebacker Tu'uta Inoke is No. 4 with his four forced fumbles.

Coached by Bubba Schweigert (second season at North Dakota (sixth season overall), 11-11 (32-31), Jamestown '85), North Dakota returned 38 lettermen, including 14 offensive and defensive starters, off last year's team which went 5-7 overall and finished tied for eighth in the Big Sky Conference at 3-5.

North Dakota's offensive leaders through 10 games are running back John Santiago (1,342 yards, 6.8 average per carry, 13 TDs), quarterback Keaton Studsrud (82 of 145 (56.6 percent), 1,007 yards, 10 TDs, three interceptions) and receivers Josh Seibel (23 catches, 256 yards, 2 TDs) and Luke Stanley (22-266-4). Brian Labat returned an interception 35 yards for a score, Seibel averages 7.4 yards per punt return and Santiago averages 28.2 yards per kickoff return. Punter Mitch Meindel is sixth in the FCS with his 44.6 average. Defensive leaders are inside linebacker Will Ratelle (99 tackles, three sacks, one interception) and outside linebacker Jake Disterhaupt (four sacks, three breakups, four hurries).

North Dakota is averaging 243 rushing yards, 130 passing yards, 372 total yards and 26 points per game this season while giving up 95 rushing yards, 265 passing yards, 360 total yards and 26 points a contest. In addition to being No. 7 in the nation in rushing defense, North Dakota is third in net punting (39.80), No. 11 in rushing offense (240.6), No. 18 in sacks (27 in 10 games) and No. 20 in passes had intercepted (5).

Schweigert, a 1991 graduate of Jamestown, 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.
North Dakota, which claims among its most famous alumni former L.A. Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, was NCAA Division II champion in 2001.

Cal Poly and North Dakota are meeting for only the sixth time in football this weekend. The teams last met in 2012 in Grand Forks, Cal Poly earning a 35-17 victory as slot back Deonte Williams cracked the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight game, netting 125 yards on 19 carries and scoring twice. Cornerback Nico Molino intercepted two passes as Cal Poly, which let a 14-0 lead slip away, scored three touchdowns in the final 12 minutes for the Big Sky Conference victory.

Linebacker Tu'uta Inoke, a redshirt freshman at the time, stopped North Dakota on a fake punt play in the fourth quarter and defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz recovered a pair of North Dakota fumbles and blocked a field goal for the Mustangs. North Dakota compiled advantages of 23-16 in first downs, 409-395 in total offense and had the ball eight more minutes than Cal Poly, but turned the ball over four times, two on fumbles recovered by Grosz and two more on the interceptions by Molino.

In North Dakota's only previous visit to San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly won 22-21 in 2010. 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 3-1 against North Dakota while Bubba Schweigert is 0-0 against Cal Poly.

Cal Poly's offensive leaders through 10 games are Brown with 1,021 rushing yards and 11 scores, fullback Joe Protheroe with 777 yards and six touchdowns and slot back Kori Garcia with 738 yards and five scores. Brown has completed 51 of 94 passes (54 percent) for 635 yards and 11 touchdowns, surpassing the 100-yard mark in passing in a single game for the first time this season last week at UC Davis. Wide receiver Willie Tucker has 13 receptions, six for touchdowns, while slot back DJ Peluso and wide receiver Jordan Hines both have eight catches.

Topping the defensive chart in tackles are senior linebacker Tu'uta Inoke with 86 (4.0 TFLs, three breakups), senior linebacker Burton De Koning with 76 tackles (8.0 TFLs, three sacks), sophomore linebacker R.J. Mazolewski with 69 tackles (7.5 TFLs, two sacks) and sophomore linebacker Joseph Gigantino III with 70 tackles (team-leading 9.5 tackles for lost yardage, 2.5 sacks). Inoke also has forced four fumbles, No. 4 in the FCS, while B.J. Nard's three interceptions, all against Montana on Sept. 5, place him No. 48 in the FCS.

Cal Poly is averaging 411 yards rushing, 79 yards passing and 490 yards in total offense while scoring 35 points a contest. The 58 points tallied against Idaho State six weeks ago are the most since Cal Poly beat the Bengals 70-14 in 2012 while, on the other side, the 54 points surrendered to Southern Utah three weeks ago are the most since a 63-28 loss to UC Davis in 2000. Defensively, the Mustangs are allowing 165 yards on the ground, 291 through the air, 456 in total offense and 35 points a contest.

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. Brown is 244 yards shy of his mark of 1,265 yards.

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.

With a 4-1 record at home in 2014 and a 2-2 mark this fall, the Mustangs have won 56 of their last 71 home contests. Overall, the Mustangs have won 57 of their last 95 games (60 percent) and 91 of 148 contests (62 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and have won 17 of their last 36 and 36 of 74 on the road (3-4 in 2014, 2-4 in 2015).

Cal Poly will honor its 18 seniors in a pregame ceremony Saturday. They are quarterback Chris Brown, linebackers Burton De Koning and Tu'uta Inoke, defensive linemen Tyler Alsey, Logan Mayes (pictured at top of page) and Dylan Gutierrez, defensive backs Kaulin Blair, Fernando Cabico, Chris Fletcher and Karlton Dennis, offensive linemen Stephen Sippel and Weston Walker, slot back Frankie Griggs, wide receivers Willie Tucker, Jordan Hines and Roland Jackson, kicker Stephen Pyle and long snapper Zac Powell.

Photo of Cal Poly With Horseshoe Trophy courtesy of Associated Press