SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (0-8, 0-5 Big Sky), which despite its winless record has held a lead in four of the losses and either were leading in the fourth quarter or were within seven points in the final eight minutes of play on five occasions, continues conference play Saturday night with its Homecoming game against Portland State (0-8, 0-5 Big Sky) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (11,075).
Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m. PDT and there will be a fireworks show following the game. The contest 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. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
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. UC Davis is still seeking its first FCS playoff berth after elevating its program from Division II to Division I in 2007.
The Mustangs have struggled in 2017, losing their first eight games for the first time since the 1964 squad went 0-10. The numbers on offense are down compared to 2016 while the defense has held steady, improving in some categories such as points allowed (29.1 compared to 32.8) and rushing defense (132.8 yards per game compared to 134.6). With 17 sacks, the 2017 squad has already surpassed the number of sacks compiled by last year's team (15).
Offensively, Cal Poly is averaging 230.8 yards rushing (343.5 a year ago), still No. 2 however in the Big Sky, 358.1 yards in total offense (471.3 in 2016) and 19.2 points a contest (34.7 a year ago).
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 in the season opener. 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. Northern Arizona led all the way in the Big Sky opener for both schools, pulling away with three consecutive touchdowns after Cal Poly closed the gap to 7-3 with a field goal. The loss to the Lumberjacks was Cal Poly's first in a conference home opener since 2007 when the Mustangs fell 31-28 to North Dakota State. Cal Poly was 5-0 in Big Sky home openers after winning its last four in the Great West.
The Mustangs erased an early 10-0 deficit at Idaho State with 17 second-quarter points but let a 14-point third-quarter lead slip away as the Bengals outscored Cal Poly 21-3 over the final 18 minutes for a 38-34 triumph. Cal Poly quarterback Khaleel Jenkins rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns and also passed for two more scores. Three weeks ago, Cal Poly dropped a 20-14 decision at Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds scored 17 points in the first 18 minutes of the game and held on. Trailing 20-7, Cal Poly rallied with a five-yard touchdown run by Broc Mortensen with 4:46 to play and got the ball back with 2:51 to go, but after picking up a pair of first downs and moving the ball into Southern Utah territory, the Mustang drive stalled. Senior fullback Jared Mohamed set new career highs with 142 yards on 30 carries.
Two weeks ago, Weber State held Cal Poly to 106 rushing yards, the lowest total since 2009 when North Dakota allowed just 62 yards on the ground, in a 17-3 victory. Last time Cal Poly was held without a touchdown was in 2000 when Montana won 53-3. Last week, UC Davis scored 21 points in the first six minutes, 10 seconds, and held on for a 31-28 victory. Jared Mohamed earned his fifth career 100-yard game with career highs for rushes (35) and yards (143). Trailing by three points with 14 minutes to play, Cal Poly couldn't secure the go-ahead score in three final possessions.
Under third-year head coach Bruce Barnum, Portland State welcomed back 41 letter winners, including 13 starters (six on offense, seven on defense), to Fall Camp in early August. Heading the list of veterans are wide receiver Josh Kraght (36 receptions, 518 yards, one touchdown in 2016), defensive end Davond Dade (29 tackles in 2016), offensive tackle Randin Crecelius (third-team All-Big Sky in 2016) and safety Beau Duronslet (73 tackles).
Portland State dropped non-conference games to BYU, Oregon State and UC Davis. Big Sky losses are to Montana, Montana State, Northern Arizona, Idaho State and, last week, North Dakota at home, 48-21, after jumping to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Vikings are No. 21 in the nation in first downs (180), No. 23 in rushing offense (202.4 yards per game and No. 36 in total offense (410.4 yards per game), but also are No. 113 or lower (among 123 FCS teams) in net punting (31.04), scoring defense (39.5), rushing defense (217.1), sacks (5) and total defense (458.3). The Vikings and Mustangs have identical records (0-8 overall, 0-5 Big Sky). Portland State surpassed the 2010 team's seven-game losing streak at the end of the season as well as the 1982 squad's seven-game streak to open the season. The Vikings' 1981 team lost its first nine contests and the school record is 11 by the 1951 (lost last two games) and 1952 (went 0-9) squads.
For the season, quarterback Jalani Eason has completed 69 of 141 passes (49 percent) for 803 yards and eight touchdowns. Za'Quan Summers is the top rusher with 386 yards and two scores in six games while the top receivers are Trent Riley (33 catches, 367 yards, two TDs), Darnell Adams (29-372-4) and Charlie Taumoepeau (28-399-2). Kraght has played quarterback (71-143-5, 793 yards, three TDs; 307 yards rushing and two TDs) and wide receiver (11-187-2). Defensive leaders are middle linebacker Kasun Jackett (65 tackles) and right end Davond Dade (5.0 tackles for lost yardage, 2.0 sacks).
Senior fullback Joe Protheroe headlined another strong group of ball carriers in Cal Poly's Spread Triple Option, but likely 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, another 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).
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. Jenkins likely is lost for the season as well with an injury.
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 returned 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.
Starters Jack Ferguson and Augustino Elisaia anchor the defensive front as tackles and the end spot in the 3-4 formation features a battle between L.J. Mealancon and Miles Williams, both of whom played all 12 games in 2016.
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, 50-50, 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.
In the absence of Protheroe, senior fullback Jared Mohamed has produced 746 yards, including a quartet of 100-yard games. Redshirt freshman Jake Jeffrey has replaced Jenkins as the Mustangs' signal caller and has completed 27 of 62 passes for 422 yards and two scores. Both Mohamed and Jeffrey scored their first touchdowns of 2017 last week at UC Davis. Sophomore J.J. Koski is the top receiver with 17 catches for 336 yards and three scores. Senior Kyle Lewis has 16 receptions for 417 yards and five TDs along with 213 rushing yards and one score.
Defensive leaders for the Mustangs eight games into the season are senior linebacker Mason Montgomery (77 tackles, 17 against San Jose State, 14 at Northern Iowa and 10 at Southern Utah) and senior linebacker Mazolewski (59 tackles). Sophomore safety Kitu Humphrey has a pair of interceptions this season for Cal Poly, which has logged 49 tackles for lost yardage, including 17 sacks.
Cal Poly and Portland State are meeting for the 24th time in football this week. Last year the Mustangs defeated the Vikings 55-35 at Providence Park as Kyle Lewis, Kori Garcia and Joe Protheroe all surpassed the 100-yard mark on the ground and Cal Poly produced 658 yards in total offense and never punted. Lewis scored twice and rushed for 158 yards, Garcia added 141 yards and one score in addition to a receiving score and Protheroe produced 101 yards and two TDs.
The series, which started in 1977 with Cal Poly winning the first six meetings, was tied at 11-11 prior to last year's Mustang victory. Walsh, who was head coach at Portland State from 1993-2006, is 5-2 against Portland State, including a 1-1 mark while head coach at Sonoma State, while Barnum is 1-1 against Cal Poly.
Barnum (third season as head coach at Portland State, 11-15, Eastern Washington '87), was offensive coordinator for the Vikings from 2010-14. After turning a 3-9 squad into a 9-3 success story in 2015, Barnum was named FCS National Coach of the Year. The Vikings made their first appearance in the NCAA playoffs in 15 years, just their second ever, and hosted a Division I playoff game for the first time. PSU lost to Northern Iowa of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, 29-17, in the opening round of the playoffs. The 2016 squad was 3-8. Barnum also has coached at Cornell, Idaho State, American International and the U.S. Coast Guard and began his coaching career at Columbia River High School (Vancouver, Wash.) and Central Valley High School (Spokane, Wash.).
The Vikings, who fielded their first football team in 1947 and have been members of the Big Sky Conference since 1996, have compiled 30 winning seasons in 70 years and have made two FCS playoff appearances (2000 and 2015) and 10 NCAA postseason appearances.
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 fourth in the 13-team Big Sky. North Dakota and Eastern Washington shared the conference title in 2016 with 8-0 marks. North Dakota was ranked No. 1 by both the media and coaches to repeat this season, followed by Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona.
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.
The Mustangs have won 60 of their last 81 home contests (74 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 98 of its last 169 games (59 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 46 and 39 of 84 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 16 years.
Next week Cal Poly hosts in-state rival Sacramento State for its Hats Off to Heroes game Saturday at 6:05 p.m. inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.