Cal Poly Seeks to Keep FCS Playoff Hopes Alive Saturday at Weber State

Cal Poly Seeks to Keep FCS Playoff Hopes Alive Saturday at Weber State


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (6-3, 4-2 Big Sky), ranked in the top 25 for the seventh straight week and, despite last week's loss to No. 3 Eastern Washington, still tied for third place with Weber State and Northern Arizona in the Big Sky Conference behind two unbeaten teams, plays its final road game of the 2016 regular season Saturday afternoon, visiting the Wildcats (5-4, 4-2 Big Sky) in Ogden, Utah.

The Mustangs and Weber State kick off at 11:07 a.m. PST inside Stewart Stadium (17,500) and the game will be broadcast live by ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Eric Burdick (analyst). The game will be televised only in Utah by KJZZ (Dave Fox and Alema Harrington). Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at

Cal Poly, which claimed the mythical FCS championship in California with wins over San Diego, UC Davis and Sacramento State, had its second three-game winning streak of the season snapped as Gage Gubrud passed for 357 yards and four touchdowns and Cooper Kupp caught 11 passes, one for a touchdown, and threw two other scoring passes in Eastern Washington's 42-21 triumph. Fullback Joe Protheroe and quarterback Dano Graves both surpassed the 100-yard mark in rushing -- Protheroe also becoming the 20th Mustang in program history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season -- as Cal Poly rushed for 372 yards, accumulated 458 yards in total offense and produced an 11-minute advantage in time of possession.

Weber State, under third-year head coach Jay Hill, suffered its second straight loss after a 5-2 start, following a 27-19 setback at North Dakota with a 33-20 home defeat at the hands of Northern Arizona last week. Jadrian Clark completed 28 of 48 passes for 302 yards and two scores and Andrew Vollert and Cam Livingston both caught eight passes, but after pulling to within six points with six minutes to play, Weber State gave up a 61-yard scoring run by Northern Arizona's Kendyl Taylor that iced the game for the Lumberjacks.

Weber State opened with losses to Utah State and South Dakota, then reeled off five consecutive wins against Sacramento State, UC Davis, Portland State, Montana State and Southern Utah for a 4-0 start in Big Sky play. The Wildcats overcame a 36-14 deficit by scoring 23 points in the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds, of the game against 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 eight 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, inched up two more spots in both polls following a 55-35 triumph at Portland State, climbed to No. 14 by the media and No. 17 by the coaches after beating UC Davis, was ranked No. 14 by the media and 16th by the coaches last week following its win over Sacramento State and currently is ranked No. 16 by the media and 20th by the coaches after the loss to Eastern Washington.

Utilizing a 21 personnel (diamond pistol) offensive formation and 4-3 defense, Weber State is averaging 27 points and 389 yards in total offense (130 rushing, 259 passing) while giving up 30 points and 394 yards on defense (205 rushing, 189 passing).

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 and his strike 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. 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.

In a 55-35 win at Portland State, Cal Poly never punted, Lewis, Kori Garcia and Protheroe all surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground and the Mustangs amassed 658 yards in total offense and committed just one penalty. Portland State led 14-13 two minutes into the second quarter before Cal Poly scored three unanswered touchdowns to take control of the game. A 21-16 Battle for the Golden Horseshoe triumph over UC Davis was not clinched until Lewis broke off a 91-yard run with 2:54 to play and, two minutes later, Jake Smeltzer recovered an Aggie onside kick. Graves ran for two touchdowns and Lewis finished with 141 yards on eight carries while sophomore Mekai Sheffie, making his first collegiate start, notched 13 tackles.

The Mustangs outscored Sacramento State 59-47 with 674 yards in total offense, 527 on the ground, led by Protheroe's 168 yards and 146 from Garcia. For the fourth time in the last five games, Graves passed for three touchdowns. Cal Poly won for the second straight week when trailing at halftime.

Coached by Tim Walsh (eighth season, 49-40, 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.

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 (370.4 yards per game) and also sport national rankings of No. 1 in passing efficiency, No. 4 in passing yards per completion, No. 6 in sacks allowed (5), No. 5 in third-down conversions and No. 6 in total offense. Cal Poly's defense also has put up some vastly improved numbers in its first nine games, ranked No. 37 in rushing defense and No. 62 in total defense.

Hill (third season, 13-19, Utah '00) welcomed back 44 lettermen, including 16 offensive and defensive starters, off last year's team which went 6-5 overall and finished tied for fourth in the Big Sky Conference at 5-3.

Cal Poly joined Weber State and 11 other schools in the Big Sky Conference prior to the 2012 season. Co-champion of the Big Sky in 2008, the Wildcats posted a combined 24-45 record over the next six years, including a 2-9 mark in 2012 and 2-10 in both 2013 and 2014, but were 6-5 last year and 5-4 so far this fall. Weber State also claimed Big Sky titles in 1965 and 1968 and have made four 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 and Weber State are meeting for the 12th time in football this weekend and the Mustangs gained a 6-5 advantage in the series with a 30-24 triumph in 2014 at Ogden. Quarterback Chris Brown and slot back Kori Garcia both threw touchdown passes to each other and Brown also rushed for one score, becoming the first player in Cal Poly's Division I history to pass and run for touchdowns and catch a scoring pass in the same game. He accomplished the same feat a year later against UC Davis. Cal Poly blanked Weber State 47-0 in 2013 inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium as Dano Graves, making his first collegiate start, passed for three touchdowns and ran for 116 yards while the Mustang defense held the visiting Wildcats to just 173 total yards -- lowest in Tim Walsh's tenure as Cal Poly head coach -- in posting its only shutout since 2006.

Walsh is 9-6 against Weber State, including a 6-5 mark while he was head coach at Portland State, while Hill is 0-1 against Cal Poly.

The Wildcats' offensive leaders include running back Treshawn Garrett (465 yards, 4.2 average per carry, four TDs), quarterback Jadrian Clark (200 of 328 (61 percent), 2,319 yards, 18 touchdowns, 12 interceptions) and six receivers with 10 or more catches, led by Cam Livingston (49 receptions, 485 yards, four TDs), Andrew Vollert (45-616-4) and Darryl Denby (34-430-5). Jacob DeMaio is No. 2 in the Big Sky with his 44.1 punting average and the defense is led by linebacker Landon Stice (82 tackles, 8.0 for lost yardage and one interception return for a touchdown) and linebacker Tre'von Johnson (72 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks).

Cal Poly's offensive leaders through nine games are Protheroe, No. 4 in the FCS and No. 1 in the Big Sky averaging 129.6 rushing yards a game; Garcia (689 yards, 7.0 per carry, four scores); Lewis (581 yards, 10.8 average per carry, six scores); Graves, No. 1 in the Big Sky in passing efficiency, completing 70 of 108 passes for 1,153 yards and 15 touchdowns along with 529 rushing yards and eight scores; and Lewis with a team-leading 19 catches for 339 yards and three TDs. Aaryn Bouzos has two interceptions and outside linebacker Chris Santini  leads the Mustangs with 69 tackles, 8.0 for lost yardage and 2.5 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.

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.

The Mustangs have won 59 of their last 76 home contests (78 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 97 of its last 158 contests (62 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 39 and 39 of 79 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 16 years.

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 and 2012.

Next week Cal Poly wraps up the 2016 regular season on Saturday night (Nov. 19) by hosting Northern Colorado for a 6:05 p.m. kickoff (Hats Off for Heroes and Senior Night) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

Photo at top of rush linebacker Josh Letulligasenoa courtesy of Ray Ambler |
Photo above of quarterback Dano Graves courtesy of J.J. Moothart