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Cal Poly, UC Davis Face Off Saturday in Battle for the Golden Horseshoe

Cal Poly, UC Davis Face Off Saturday in Battle for the Golden Horseshoe
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky), which defeated Sacramento State 41-27 for its first Big Sky win of the 2018 season and had a bye last week, continues conference action Saturday afternoon with the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe game against No. 10/16 UC Davis  (5-1, 3-0 Big Sky) on Mustang Memorial Field at Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075) in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
 
Kickoff for the Mustang Family Weekend contest is set for 4:05 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 3:30 p.m. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available at the top of the page as well as 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.
 

2018 Cal Poly Mustangs

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 six 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 five 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) three weeks ago, 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 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. Protheroe added 128 more yards to his career rushing total (his 18th career 100-yard game and fourth in a row), scoring once, Hernandez gained 113 yards on the ground and J.J. Koski returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown and ran 68 yards on a reverse for another score in the Mustangs' win over Sacramento State.
 

2018 UC Davis Aggies 

UC Davis grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big Sky with a 44-37 overtime win over Idaho State in front of its third sellout in Aggie Stadium history. Junior quarterback Jake Maier completed 40 of 51 passes for 382 yards and a career-high five touchdowns, including a five-yarder to Keelan Doss with 1:09 left in regulation. Maier also converted the two-point PAT with a pass to tie the game at 37-37. Ulonzo Gilliam, who rushed for 99 yards, scored on a four-yard run in overtime and Idaho State, which missed a 27-yard field goal attempt as time expired in regulation, could not convert on fourth and three in overtime.
 
Off to their best start since the 2004 squad won its first five games, the Aggies are 3-0 in the Big Sky for the first time since joining the conference in 2012. UC Davis defeated San Jose State and San Diego before closing out its non-conference schedule with a 30-10 loss at No. 9 Stanford. The Aggies have beaten Idaho, Northern Colorado and Idaho State in Big Sky action so far.
 
A total of 13 Aggie starters return — seven on offense and six on defense — led by wide receiver Keelan Doss (115 catches, 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017), Maier (306 of 466 passes, 10 interceptions, 3,669 yards, 26 TDs in 2017), tight end Wesley Preece (36 catches, 568 yards, 9 TDs, third-team All-Big Sky in 2017) and defensive back Vincent White (49 tackles, 12 breakups, All-Big Sky honorable mention in 2017), who broke up the fourth-down pass in overtime to preserve the win for the Aggies. 
 
For the season, Gilliam has rushed for 417 yards and seven touchdowns while Maier has completed 176 of 275 passes (64 percent) for 1,960 yards and 16 touchdowns. Doss has 56 receptions for 545 yards and three scores and six other Aggies have 10 or more catches. Linebacker Montell Bland has a team-leading 29 tackles and Mason Moe has intercepted two passes. The Aggie defense has notched 18 sacks in six games.
 
UC Davis averages 489 yards and 41 points per game, rushing for 135 yards and passing for 354 yards each contest. The Aggies have allowed 441 yards and 31 points a game, including 128 on the ground and 313 through the air. The Aggies are 16th in the nation with 3.0 sacks per game and sixth with 10 interceptions while the offense is No. 2 in passing, No. 7 in scoring, No. 10 in total offense and 12th with a plus-seven turnover margin.
 
UC Davis has won 30 conference titles, all but one in Division II, claiming the Great West crown in 2009, and has made 19 NCAA postseason appearances, all in Division II. The Aggies are 511-419-33 in 99-plus seasons of football.
 

Mustang Notes 

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 2,461 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, 139 against Montana and 128 at Sacramento State, his 18th contest past the century mark. He surpassed the 3,000-yard mark for his career in the Montana game and, with 3,249 career yards, needs 81 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 passed 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 six 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 (53-56, 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. 4 in time of possession (34:24), No. 4 in rushing offense (323.7) and No. 6 in third-down conversion (50.0 percent).
 

The Series 

Cal Poly and UC Davis are meeting for the 44th time this week and the series was all tied up at 20-20-2 before the Aggies earned a 31-28 victory a year ago in Davis. Maier passed for 459 yards and four touchdowns, completing 33 of 43 passes. Mustang fullback Jared Mohamed established a new career high for carries with 35 and for yards rushing with 143, scoring his first two touchdowns of the season. The Mustangs compiled a 25-20 advantage in first downs and had the ball offensively for 15 1/2 more minutes than the Aggies, falling short in total offensive yardage by just 17. 
 
Cal Poly earned a 21-16 victory in 2016 in Alex G. Spanos Stadium to even the series. First game of the series was played in 1939 and the two teams have met every year since 1978. Tim Walsh is 9-10 against UC Davis -- 1-3 while coaching at Sonoma State, 4-2 while at Portland State and 4-5 at Cal Poly -- while Dan Hawkins is 1-0 against Cal Poly. Against the Aggies, the Mustangs are 12-9 at home and 8-12-2 in Davis.
 
Although the two teams are meeting for the 44th time, the official "Battle for the Golden Horseshoe" was established in 2004 as the student-run spirit clubs from both schools came together to sponsor a perpetual trophy that resides with the team that wins each year. The horseshoe-shaped trophy signifies the agricultural influence at both universities. Since the trophy was created in 2004, the series is tied at 7-7. The visiting team won the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe three straight years before Cal Poly ended the run with its 2016 victory at home.
 
Hawkins, a UC Davis alum (1984), was hired to replace Ron Gould as Aggie head coach on Nov. 28, 2016. He compiled a 56-11 mark in five seasons as head coach at Boise State (2001-05) and also coached at Colorado for five years (2006-10) before becoming an analyst on ESPN. He has coached 13 teams around the world, including the Montreal Alouettes, Vienna Vikings, Willamette, Sonoma State, College of the Siskiyous and Christian Brothers High School.
 

Final Notes 

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 101 of its last 178 games (57 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 21 of its last 50 and 40 of 88 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 17 years. The Mustangs' win at Sacramento State on Oct. 6 snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
 
Cal Poly plays its next two games on the road at Northern Arizona (Oct. 27) and Montana State (Nov. 3) before closing out the season with home contests versus Idaho State (Nov. 10) and Southern Utah (Nov. 17).
 
Photo above of Cal Poly defensive end Myles Cecil sacking Sacramento State quarterback Kevin Thomson courtesy of Alexander Bohlen