Cal Poly to Open FCS Playoffs Saturday With Rematch Against San Diego

Cal Poly to Open FCS Playoffs Saturday With Rematch Against San Diego


SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (7-4, 5-3 Big Sky), ranked in the top 25 for the ninth straight week and in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs for the fourth time in its 23-year Division I history, will host San Diego (9-1, 8-0 Pioneer) for the second time this season in a first-round game Saturday afternoon inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075).

The matchup of two of California's four FCS teams kicks off at 4:05 p.m. PST and the game will be broadcast live by ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Mike Wozniak (analyst). ESPN3 will broadcast the game as well with Trey Bender (play-by-play) and Jay Taylor (analyst). Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at

Cal Poly, which claimed the unofficial FCS title in California with wins over San Diego, UC Davis and Sacramento State, defeated the Toreros 38-16 on Sept. 10, also in San Luis Obispo. The two teams have met four times over the last five years and the Mustangs have won them all.

Last week, Cal Poly clinched its spot in the FCS playoffs with a 55-48 triumph over Northern Colorado. Senior quarterback Dano Graves completed 14 of 15 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 147 yards and another score as the Mustangs amassed 634 yards in total offense, surpassing the 600-yard mark for the fourth time. Cal Poly converted 14 of 18 third-down plays, punted just twice, had the ball for almost 15 minutes more than the Bears and gave Tim Walsh his 50th win as Mustang head coach.

San Diego, under fourth-year head coach Dale Lindsey, blanked Western New Mexico 27-0 in its season opener and has won eight straight since the loss to Cal Poly, exceeding 35 points seven times during the run. The Toreros closed out their regular season with a 57-21 triumph at Campbell on Saturday as quarterback Anthony Lawrence completed 20 of 28 passes for 205 yards and one score and Jonah Hodges rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The San Diego defense notched six sacks and held the Camels to 260 total yards.

Cal Poly moved into the top 25 in both the STATS media and FCS coaches polls following its 42-41 Big Sky-opening win over Montana on Sept. 24. The Mustangs were ranked as high as No. 14 by the media and 16th by the coaches after their win over Sacramento State but fell back after back-to-back losses to Eastern Washington and Weber State. Cal Poly currently is ranked No. 21 in the media poll and 20th in the coaches poll while San Diego is 24th (media) and 25th (coaches).

Utilizing a multiple-set offense and 4-3 defense, San Diego is averaging 39 points and 452 yards in total offense (183 rushing, 269 passing) while giving up just 12 points and 250 yards on defense (82 rushing, 168 passing). The Toreros own national rankings of No. 1 in scoring defense (12.1), time of possession (35:13) and total defense (249.6) and also are No. 3 in sacks allowed (4), No. 4 in third-down conversions (52.8 percent), No. 5 in completion percentage (68.1), No. 7 in blocked punts (2) and passing efficiency (162.52), No. 10 in sacks (30) and No. 15 in total offense (452.2).

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. That streak ended with Eastern Washington's 42-21 triumph as Gage Gubrud passed for 357 yards and four touchdowns and Cooper Kupp threw two scoring passes and caught another among his 11 receptions. Protheroe notched his sixth 100-yard game of the season and 11th of his Mustang career, rushing for 116 yards on 23 carries, while quarterback Dano Graves gained 121 yards on the ground and scored twice on runs of 9 and 1 yards. Protheroe had the other Mustang score on a one-yard dive.

The Mustangs had their longest losing streak of the year, two games, following a 22-15 loss at Weber State. Cal Poly was held under 200 yards rushing for the first time since the 2015 season finale, netting 190 yards on the ground. Protheroe finished with 65 yards on 18 carries while Kori Garcia added 57 yards on 14 trips and DJ Peluso 50 yards on six carries. Senior linebacker Chris Santini made 16 tackles to lead Cal Poly defensively.

Coached by Tim Walsh (eighth season, 50-41, 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. 1 in rushing (360.6 yards per game) and also sport national rankings of No. 1 in passing efficiency and third-down conversions, No. 6 in passing yards per completion, No. 6 in sacks allowed (6) and No. 6 in total offense (496.5). Cal Poly's defense also has put up some vastly improved numbers in the regular season, ranked No. 28 in rushing defense (130.7) and No. 71 in total defense (399.8).

A total of 14 starters -- eight on defense -- returned off San Diego's 9-2 squad of a year ago, led by quarterback Anthony Lawrence, running backs Jereke Armstrong and Blake Martin, wide receivers Ross Dwelley and Brian Riley and defensive backs Colton Giorgi, Devyn Bryant and Jamal Agnew.

In his fourth season at San Diego, Dale Lindsey (35-9, Western Kentucky '64) has guided the Toreros to four straight winning seasons and FCS playoff berths in 2014 and 2016. San Diego finished tied for first place with Dayton in the 2015 Pioneer League standings and Dayton earned the automatic berth in the FCS playoffs by virtue of its 13-12 win over the Toreros.

Lindsey was hired as San Diego's head coach on December 29, 2012, replacing Ron Caragher, who was hired as head coach at San Jose State. Lindsey, San Diego's defensive coordinator in 2012 and linebackers coach in 2008, was at New Mexico State from 2009-11 as an assistant head coach and linebackers coach. His resume also includes over 30 years of football coaching at the high school, college and professional ranks.

Most recently with the Washington Redskins (2004-06), Lindsey also spent time on the San Diego Chargers staff as defensive coordinator (2002-03) and linebackers coach (1992-96). Lindsey played both linebacker and fullback for two years at Western Kentucky.

Cal Poly and San Diego met for three straight years from 2012-14 and Cal Poly won by scores of 41-14 in 2012, 38-16 in 2013 (wiping out a 17-10 halftime deficit) and 34-3 in the 2014 finale. In the second week of the 2016 season, Graves passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as Cal Poly overcame a 13-10 deficit late in the second quarter to defeat San Diego 38-16. Graves connected with Kyle Lewis on a 57-yard pass with six seconds left in the first half, hit Kori Garcia with a 27-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes into the third quarter and rambled 33 yards through a big hole at left tackle for the final score of the game for Cal Poly. Junior fullback Joe Protheroe earned his second 100-yard game of the season and sixth of his Mustang career, rushing for 131 yards on 18 carries and scoring Cal Poly's first touchdown of the game on a five-yard run with a minute to go in the opening period.

First meeting of the series was in 1959, a season opener for both teams, and was won by the Mustangs 36-14 in then-Mustang Stadium.

Tim Walsh is 4-0 against San Diego while Dale Lindsey is 0-3 against Cal Poly.

Cal Poly's offensive leaders through the regular season are Protheroe, No. 5 in the FCS and No. 1 in the Big Sky averaging 121.2 rushing yards a game; Garcia (834 yards, 6.7 per carry, six scores); Lewis (587 yards, 10.3 average per carry, six scores); Graves, No. 1 in the Big Sky in passing efficiency, completing 91 of 139 passes (66 percent) for 1,445 yards and 17 touchdowns along with 684 rushing yards and nine scores; and Lewis with a team-leading 21 catches for 372 yards and four TDs. Aaryn Bouzos has two interceptions and outside linebacker Chris Santini leads the Mustangs with 93 tackles (10.5 for lost yardage and 2.5 sacks, notching a career-high 16 stops against Weber State.

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 left. 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 60 of their last 77 home contests (78 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 98 of its last 160 contests (61 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 40 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, 2012 and 2016.

Winner of the Cal Poly vs. San Diego game visits top-seeded and five-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State inside the FargoDome on Saturday, Dec. 3, at 12:30 p.m. PST.