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Cal Poly Visits Sacramento State for Big Sky Contest Saturday Night

Cal Poly Visits Sacramento State for Big Sky Contest Saturday Night
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (1-4, 0-2 Big Sky), which has dropped its first two Big Sky Conference games to No. 5 Eastern Washington and No. 14 Montana, continues Big Sky action Saturday night against Sacramento State (2-2, 0-1 Big Sky) inside Hornet Stadium (cap.: 21,195) in the state capital.
 
Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m. PDT and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 AM and 101.7 FM with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Alex Clupper (analyst). Pregame show starts at 5:30 p.m. The game also will be televised by CW31 in the Sacramento area. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
 
After capturing its fourth FCS playoff berth in 2016 and finishing 7-5 overall and tied for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference, Cal Poly slipped to 1-10 and 12th place in 2017. As many as eight starters missed games due to injuries, including quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and fullback Joe Protheroe. Four of the six team captains suffered season-ending injuries.
 
Jenkins, Protheroe, offensive linemen Harry Whitson, Zach Shallcross and Sam Ogee and defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Aaron Johnson and Carter Nichols all return this fall, bolstering hopes for a turnaround from the team that tied the school record for losses in a season.
 
The Mustangs opened the 2018 campaign with a 49-3 setback at No. 1-ranked and six-time NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State and fell 24-17 to No. 6 Weber State four weeks ago in a non-conference matchup of Big Sky Conference rivals before rushing for 420 yards, paced by senior Joe Protheroe's career highs of 43 carries, 228 yards and three touchdowns, in a 44-15 victory over Brown three weeks ago. Sophomore slot back Broc Mortensen returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, just the second touchdown by kickoff return for the Mustangs in 15-plus seasons. No. 4 Eastern Washington compiled a 657-399 advantage in total offense in a 70-17 triumph over Cal Poly at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., on Sept. 22.
 
In front of a national television audience (Eleven Sports) last week, Cal Poly produced a 32-18 advantage in first downs, 512-468 in total offense and over 17 minutes in time of possession, but lost two fumbles and were stopped three times on fourth-and-short plays in a 48-28 setback against No. 15 Montana. Protheroe rushed for 139 yards (his 17th career 100-yard game) and surpassed the 3,000-yard mark in career rushing, scoring three touchdowns, while sophomore slot back Drew Hernandez added 135 yards on just 14 trips.
 
Coming off a bye last week, Sacramento State fell 41-34 at Montana on Sept. 22. The Hornets led 28-17 midway through the second quarter before the Griz turned the game around by outscoring Sacramento State 24-6 the rest of the way. Both teams accumulated over 500 yards of total offense. Elijah Dotson rushed for 234 yards and three touchdowns for the Hornets while Kevin Thomson completed 10 of 19 passes for 259 yards and one score.
 
Following a season-opening 55-7 win over St. Francis (Ill.) at home (630 yards of total offense), Sacramento State fell 28-14 at San Diego State (led 14-13 before Aztecs scored 15 points in final 4:05 of game). The Hornets rebounded with a 28-25 non-conference win over Big Sky member Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colo. (Thomson 244 passing yards; Hornets recovered three Bear fumbles), then, in their third straight game on the road, lost at Montana.
 
A total of 15 Hornet starters return — seven on offense and eight on defense — led by running back Bryan Perkinson (591 rushing yards, four TDs in 2017), wide receivers Andre Lindsey (25 catches, 756 yards, seven TDs, 30.24 yards per catch, No. 1 in FCS) in 2017) and Jaelin Ratliff 25-663-4, 26.52 yards per catch (No. 2 in FCS) in 2017), defensive linemen George Obinna (12.5 tackles for lost yardage, including 8.5 sacks, first-team All-Big Sky in 2017) and Dariyn Choates (9.5 tackles for lost yardage, including five sacks, All-Big Sky honorable mention in 2017), linebackers Immanuel Anderson (238 career tackles, 32 career starts) and Marcus Bruce (57 tackles, third-team All-Big Sky in 2017), safety Mister Harriel (87 tackles, three interceptions, first-team All-Big Sky in 2017) and cornerback Dre Terrell (61 tackles, five interceptions, All-Big Sky honorable mention in 2017). Placekicker Devin Medeiros (14 of 17 field goals, 64.2 average on kickoffs, 52 of 53 PATs, second-team All-Big Sky in 2017) also returns. 
 
For the season, Dotson has rushed for 437 yards (fifth in the Big Sky) and six scores, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Thomson has completed 48 of 79 passes (61 percent) for 904 yards and five scores. Ratliff and Lindsey are the top two receivers with 12 and 10 catches, respectively.
 
Sacramento State averages 452 yards and 33 points per game, rushing for 181 yards and passing for 271 yards each contest. The Hornets, who had 43 sacks and 14 interceptions a year ago en route to a 7-4 overall mark and third-place finish in the Big Sky at 6-2 in 2017, have produced 10 sacks and two thefts so far this year.
 
The Griz won 19 Big Sky championships from 1969 to 2011, have earned 24 FCS playoff berths, including an FCS-record 17 consecutive trips to the postseason from 1993 to 2009) and claimed national titles in 1995 and 2001.
 
Protheroe headlines another strong group of Mustang ball carriers in Cal Poly's Spread Triple Option. Granted a medical redshirt after playing less than six quarters a year ago, Protheroe entered his final collegiate campaign No. 5 on the Mustangs' career rushing chart with 2,164 yards. In becoming Cal Poly's 20th 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for 779 yards as a sophomore in 2015 and, with 139 yards on a career-high 39 carries against Colgate in the 2017 opener, entered the 2018 season with 14 career 100-yard games. His 228-yard performance against Brown was his 15th career game past the century mark and second 200-yard contest and he added 176 yards at Eastern Washington and 139 against Montana, his 17th contest past the century mark. He surpassed the 3,000-yard mark for his career last week and, with 3,121 career yards, needs 209 yards to catch No. 4 Louis Jackson on Cal Poly's career rushing chart.
 
Jenkins passed for 597 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards and four more scores in five starts in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury in late September. He completed nine of 16 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Northern Iowa, the most passing yards by a Mustang quarterback in a single game since Tony Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns against South Dakota in 2009.
 
Joining Protheroe among the corps of ball carriers this fall are sophomores Broc Mortensen (206 yards as a true freshman in 2017) and Chuby Dunu (215 yards), junior Trey Nahhas, senior Malcolm Davis (99 yards) and redshirt freshman Duy Tran-Sampson. Mortensen, however, is out for the season due to a foot injury suffered in the Brown game.
 
The Mustangs' wide receiving corps is led by juniors J.J. Koski (team-leading 28 catches in 2017) and Jake Smeltzer (six) along with sophomore Ryan McNab (two). Koski made seven catches in the loss to Weber State four weeks ago, the most by a Mustang in five years.
 
Whitson, who played at left guard during his first three seasons as a Mustang, moved to center to replace Joey Kuperman this fall. Whitson is one of five offensive linemen who started at least four games a year ago. The others are tackles Ogee (six starts) and Shallcross (eight starts) and guards Tyler Whisenhunt 11 starts) and Paul Trujillo-Langdon (four starts).
 
On defense, the entire front three and half of the four linebackers needed to be replaced. Seniors Anders Turner (32 tackles in 2016) and Jayson Lee (60 tackles in 2017) anchor the linebacking corps. The secondary is the most experienced group, led by six veterans, the return of Nichols from injury and the addition of transfer Kevin Howell from Nevada.
 
Casey Sublette, who handled all kicking duties in 2017, returns, backed up by Alex Vega. Both are seniors. Vega kicked a 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener while Sublette connected on a career-long 50-yarder for Cal Poly's only points against North Dakota State on Sept. 1.
 
Coached by Tim Walsh (52-56, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly's football program is celebrating a trio of milestones this fall. The Mustangs are playing their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level. In addition, Walsh is in his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
 
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 in 2016 with a 343.5-yard average. The four-year run atop the FCS in team rushing ended last fall as the Mustangs averaged just 231.7 yards per contest on the ground.
 
This week, the Mustangs are No. 3 in time of possession (34:32), No. 6 in rushing offense (267.0) and No. 12 in third-down conversion (47.6 percent).
 
Cal Poly and Sacramento State are meeting for the 38th time in football this weekend and the Mustangs lead the series 20-17 after the Hornets' 49-14 triumph a year ago inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium. Thomson, who had missed the previous three weeks due to injury, returned to the lineup and passed for 247 yards and three touchdowns while Cal Poly was held to just 141 yards rushing and 289 yards of total offense. Sacramento State scored the first 49 points of the game and never looked back. Mustang senior fullback Jared Mohamed surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in rushing for a single season, gaining 125 yards on 30 carries.
 
The series began in 1967 with a 17-7 Mustang victory in Sacramento. Cal Poly is 11-9 against Sacramento State at home and 9-8 against the Hornets in Sacramento. Tim Walsh is 17-3 against Sacramento State, including a 12-1 mark while he was head coach at Portland State, while Jody Sears is 1-5 against Cal Poly.
 
Sears (20-29 at Sacramento State (fifth season), 24-48 overall (seventh season), Washington State '91) was head coach at Weber State in both 2012 and 2013, compiling a 4-22 mark, and has served as defensive coordinator at Washington State (2008-11), Eastern Washington (2000-07) and St. Ambrose (1997). He also was an assistant at Army (1998-99) and Iowa State (1994-96). Sears was a two-year receiver at Washington State before earning his bachelor's degree in 1991 and obtained his master's degree at Iowa State in 1996.
 
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked this summer to finish 10th (coaches) and 11th (media) in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the Big Sky crown in 2018. Southern Utah and Weber State shared the conference title in 2017 with 7-1 marks.
 
The Big Sky loses North Dakota in its lineup this fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule for two more years. Idaho returns to the Big Sky this fall after an 18-year run in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
 
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 62 of their last 86 home contests (72 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 100 of its last 177 games (58 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 20 of its last 49 and 39 of 87 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 17 years.
 
Cal Poly has a bye next week and returns home Oct. 20 to host UC Davis in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Mustang Family Weekend. Kickoff inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium is set for 4:05 p.m.