SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (0-3, 0-0 Big Sky), whose fourth-quarter rallies against Colgate and San Jose State fell short and extended No. 21 Northern Iowa into overtime before falling, opens Big Sky Conference play Saturday night with its Hall of Fame Game against Northern Arizona (0-2, 0-0 Big Sky) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075).
Kickoff for the 12th meeting overall but the first between the two schools since 2014 is set for 6:05 p.m. PDT. The game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst). Pregame show starts at 5:30 p.m. The game also will be broadcast live by Eleven Sports (Bill Doleman play-by-play, Darius Walker analyst), available on DirecTV channel 623, Charter SD channel 346 and HD channel 879 as well as on AT&T, U-verse, Verizon FiOS and Google Fiber. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
All home games will be video streamed for free via Pluto TV. To watch live events from the Big Sky Conference, download the Pluto TV app and tune to Channel 244. For mobile and tablet, the Pluto TV app is available on iPhone and iPad from the App Store and on Android devices from Google Play. The Pluto TV app is also available on any connected living room device such as Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation or Xbox as well as most smart TVs, including those from Samsung, Vizio, Sony and Hisense. Additionally, Pluto TV can be accessed via web at pluto.tv/watch.
Cal Poly earned its fourth FCS playoff berth in 12 seasons last fall, finishing 7-5 and tied for fourth with Southern Utah in the Big Sky. Northern Arizona, which lost quarterback Case Cookus to injury in the fourth game a year ago, finished 5-6 overall and tied for sixth in the Big Sky at 4-4.
Colgate shut out Cal Poly for three quarters, the first team to do that since Southern Utah in 2010, and held off the Mustangs in the final minutes for a 20-14 win two weeks ago. An incomplete pass on fourth down at the Colgate 22 with 37 seconds remaining halted Cal Poly's late rally. San Jose State overcame an early 6-0 deficit and built a 20-6 lead before Cal Poly closed the gap to seven. It was still a seven-point margin with eight minutes left before the Spartans scored twice in a nine-second span to pull away for the 34-13 triumph.
Against Northern Iowa, Cal Poly scored two touchdowns in the final 2:05 of regulation to force overtime, but two illegal procedure penalties thwarted the Mustangs' drive after the Panthers scored. Cal Poly lost despite compiling 543 yards in total offense, 19 more plays, five more first downs and more than eight minutes advantage in time of possession. Also, for the 21st time in the last seven seasons, Cal Poly produced two 100-yard rushers. Fullback Jared Mohamed had 112 yards, his second career 100-yard game, and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins added 102 yards for his first 100-yard contest.
Northern Arizona welcomed back 34 letter winners, including 10 starters (seven on offense, three on defense), to Fall Camp in early August. Heading the list of veterans are Cookus, an All-American as a freshman who threw for 3,117 yards in 2015; All-American wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver and two-time All-Big Sky first-team selection; running back Joe Logan, who logged 726 yards in nine games a year ago; and cornerback Khalil Dorsey, who had nine pass breakups and a pair of interceptions to go with 47 tackles in his rookie season.
Northern Arizona, like Cal Poly, enjoyed a bye last week after losses to Arizona 62-24 in Tucson and to Western Illinois 38-20 at home in Flagstaff. Cookus passed for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but the ground game was held by Western Illinois to just 57 yards. So far this season, Logan has rushed for 127 yards and one score while Cory Young has rushed for 124 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Senior fullback Joe Protheroe headlined another strong group of ball carriers in Cal Poly's Spread Triple Option, but is sidelined the rest of the 2017 season with an injury. In becoming Cal Poly's 20th 1,000-yard rusher a year ago, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and is No. 8 on the career rushing chart with 2,461 yards. Jared Mohamed, also a senior, also returns after collecting 343 yards in 2016. The group of slot backs features all-purpose player Kyle Lewis (591 rushing yards and six TDs, team-leading 22 catches for 375 yards and four scores in 2016).
Junior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins started one game in 2015 against Portland State and appeared in four games last season with one incomplete pass and one carry for two yards. He completed nine of 16 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Northern Iowa, the most passing yards by a Mustang quarterback since Tony Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns against South Dakota in 2009.
Two of last year's five starting offensive linemen are back in junior left guard Harry Whitson and center Joey Kuperman -- the other three probable starters played all 12 games a year ago -- and the Mustangs' wide receiving corps is led by sophomores J.J. Koski (18 catches in 2016) and Jake Smeltzer (five). Protheroe and Kuperman landed on the 2017 All-Big Sky Preseason Team.
On defense, Cal Poly returns all four starters in the secondary, but three of the four linebackers and one of the linemen need to be replaced. The good news is that Charlie Davis and R.J. Mazolewski, both of whom played in the first three games of 2016 before suffering season-ending injuries, are back and healthy. Anders Turner and Jayson Lee, who combined for five starts a year ago, return as well, and Mason Montgomery and Darren Adjei each played at least 11 games last fall.
The secondary features safeties B.J. Nard, Kitu Humphrey, Carter Nichols and Aaron Johnson and cornerbacks Dominic Frasch, Jerek Rosales, Kevin Griffin and Kam Dennis. All played at least 11 games in 2016. Nickel back Aaryn Bouzos, who also played all 12 games with two interceptions, returns as well.
The kicking game has both of last year's kickers back -- Casey Sublette and Alex Vega. Sublette handled most of the chores in 2016, averaging 36.8 yards over 29 punts and making 54 of 56 PATs and all six field goal attempts. Vega, who punted 10 times for a 40.7 average, is best known for his 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener.
Coached by Tim Walsh (ninth season, 50-45, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly began its 98th season of football in 2016 by winning six of its first eight games before losing three of its final four contests, including a 35-21 setback at the hands of San Diego in the opening round of the FCS playoffs, almost three months after a 38-16 triumph in Week Two.
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, broke school and Big Sky records by averaging 387.3 rushing yards per game in 2015 and topped all 121 FCS teams during the regular season again last fall with a 343.5-yard average.
The Mustangs struggled offensively in the first two weeks of the 2017 campaign, averaging just 203 yards on the ground and 264 yards in total offense, before exploding for 543 yards last week. Despite the 0-3 record, the Mustangs enjoy nearly an eight-minute advantage in time of possession, but are just 21 of 55 on third-down plays (38 percent).
Defensive leaders for the Mustangs three games into the season are senior linebacker Mason Montgomery (37 tackles, 17 against San Jose State and 14 more at Northern Iowa) and senior linebacker R.J. Mazolewski (26 tackles, 3.0 for lost yardage and 1.5 sacks). Sophomore safety Kitu Humphrey and junior cornerback Dominic Frasch have the Mustang interceptions.
The Mustangs are 0-3 for the first time in Walsh's nine seasons at the helm. Cal Poly lost its first two games in 2011 and 2014, but finished with winning records each year (6-5 and 7-5, respectively).
Northern Arizona has a 10-1 advantage in its series against Cal Poly. Lone Mustang win was a 42-34 decision in 2012 at Flagstaff, clinching for Cal Poly its first Big Sky title and an FCS playoff berth. A year later, the Lumberjacks won 17-13 in San Luis Obispo, followed by a 38-35 triumph in 2014, the last meeting between the two schools. Tim Walsh is 5-9 against Northern Arizona while Jerome Souers is 5-1 against Cal Poly. The Mustangs are 0-5 at home against the Lumberjacks.
Northern Arizona and Souers announced during a press conference Monday that they would part ways following the 2017 season.
In the midst of his 20th season as head coach, Souers has compiled a 112-105 overall record since joining NAU in 1998. He led the Lumberjacks to four FCS playoff appearances (most recently in 2013) as well as a Big Sky championship in 2003. He was named Big Sky Coach of the Year in 1999.
Souers, 59, was an assistant coach at Western Washington (1984), Portland State (1985) and Montana (1986-97) before taking his first head coaching gig in Flagstaff. NAU signed the longtime coach to a four-year extension in 2014 that expires in January 2018. He is the winningest coach in Big Sky history.
Cal Poly will induct six former Mustang student-athletes and one longtime administrator, into the Cal Poly Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday night.
The 2017 class of inductees -- baseball pitcher Kevin Correia, football running back Craig Young, men's cross country and track and field distance runner Danny Aldridge, men's basketball forward Billy Jackson, women's cross country/track and field distance runner Gladees Prieur, women's basketball forward Kristina Santiago and former Mustang director of athletics and faculty athletic representative Dr. Ken Walker -- will be inducted at the Recreation Center's Multi-Activity Center on the Cal Poly campus and will be honored at halftime Saturday.
The seven inductees, announced by Mustang director of athletics Don Oberhelman, raise the total number of inductees to 130 individuals, a track and field relay foursome and the 1960 football team.
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.
Cal Poly, which has another bye on Oct. 14, plays its next two Big Sky games on the road, visiting Idaho State on Sept. 30 and Southern Utah on Oct. 7.