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Cal Poly to Host Southern Utah for Final Game of 2018 Season Saturday

Cal Poly to Host Southern Utah for Final Game of 2018 Season Saturday
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (4-6, 3-4 Big Sky), which has split its last eight games after an 0-2 start, including an upset of No. 24 Idaho State last week, wraps up the 2018 season Saturday afternoon with a Big Sky Conference game against Southern Utah (1-9, 1-6 Big Sky) inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075).
 
The Senior Day / Youth Day / Green Out kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. PST and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 AM and 101.7 FM with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Vernon (Veejay) Huskey (analyst). Pregame show starts at 3:30 p.m. The game also will be streamed on Pluto TV (Channel 244). Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available at the top of this 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.
 

Year in Review

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 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. 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, opening Big Sky play. In front of a national television audience (Eleven Sports), 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, scoring once, Hernandez gained 113 yards on the ground and J.J. Koski returned a punt 70 yards for a score and ran 68 yards on a reverse for another TD in the Mustangs' 41-27 win over Sacramento State.
 
Three weeks ago, No. 10 UC Davis scored 52 unanswered points to overcome an early 10-0 Cal Poly lead and posted a 52-10 triumph. Protheroe rushed for 147 yards on 33 carries and moved up to No. 4 in career rushing, surpassing Louis Jackson. On Oct. 27 at Northern Arizona, Protheroe earned his third career 200-yard game with 217 yards on 39 carries, scoring once, and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins threw his first two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in a 38-28 victory. Cornerback Dominic Frasch intercepted a Lumberjack pass at the one-yard line with 54 seconds remaining to clinch the victory for the Mustangs. At Bozeman, Mont., Montana State jumped to a 14-0 lead in the opening nine minutes and never looked back in a 49-42 triumph. The Mustangs scored four of the game's final five touchdowns after falling behind 42-14, but could get no closer than the final margin. Protheroe produced his second straight 200-yard game and seventh consecutive 100-yard output, rushing for 215 yards and two scores while Jenkins ran for three scores and threw for another, rushing for 138 yards, his third career game over the century mark.
 
Last week, Protheroe established a new career high with 260 yards (41 carries) for his third straight 200-yard game and eighth consecutive 100-yard performance, breaking the school record for rushing yards in a season as the Mustangs upset Idaho State 37-14. Protheroe scored once, J.J. Koski added two more scores on a reverse and a reception and Alex Vega kicked a career-high three field goals.
 
Protheroe has a school-record 22 career 100-yard games, five over the 200-yard mark and a Big Sky- and FCS-leading 1,627 yards this season, joining five other Mustangs with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. Protheroe has rushed for 4,088 career yards and needs 117 yards to surpass the school record of 4,205 yards set by Craig Young from 1996-99. He broke the single-season mark of 1,578 set by James Noble in 2005. 
 
Protheroe, who three weeks ago joined Noble, Young, Antonio Warren, Louis Jackson and Chris Brown as Mustangs with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons rushing, has rushed for 1,501 yards during his streak of eight 100-yard games, averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 188.7 yards a contest.
 

Thunderbird Notes

Under third-year head coach Demario Warren (16-17, UC Davis '08), Southern Utah followed last year's 9-3 co-Big Sky Conference championship season with five straight losses to begin the 2018 campaign. The Thunderbirds defeated Sacramento State 48-27 on Oct. 13, but have lost their last four games, including the final three at home, falling 31-18 to Weber State last week. Eastern Washington, UC Davis and Weber State all sport 6-1 Big Sky marks. Cal Poly is tied for seventh place with Portland State at 3-4 and could climb as high as sixth place with a win while Southern Utah is 12th at 1-6.
 
Against Weber State, Southern Utah scored three touchdowns but missed all three extra points. Jay Green ran eight yards in the first quarter, Judd Cockett returned a kickoff 100 yards early in the second period and Landen Measom caught a one-yard scoring pass from Austin Ewing in the fourth for the Thunderbirds, who trailed the entire game. Green finished with 68 yards on 10 carries and Southern Utah used three quarterbacks in the game. Starter Aaron Zwahlen was 13 of 22 for 186 yards.
 
The Thunderbirds are 13th in the Football Championship Subdivision in passing completion percentage (62.9), ninth in first downs (24.0 per game), 17th in fumbles lost with just four and 29th in total offense (433.7 yards per game).
 
A total of 14 Thunderbird starters return — nine on offense and five on defense — led by center Zach Larsen, offensive tackle Maquez Tucker, running back James Felilia, linebacker Chindu Ahanonu and PJ Nu'usa, all returning all-Big Sky performers in 2017. Green rushed for 655 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago while Measom caught 54 passes for 613 yards and four scores. Logan Parker added 42 receptions for 555 yards and five touchdowns.
 
Southern Utah averages 434 yards and 26 points per game, rushing for 188 yards and passing for 246 yards each contest. The Thunderbirds have allowed 545 yards (123rd in the FCS) and 42 points a game, including 266 on the ground and 279 through the air. Southern Utah is 27 of 41 on fourth downs this year.
 
Southern Utah claimed Big Sky titles in both 2015 and 2017 and its nine wins a year ago is a school record. The Thunderbirds, who joined the Big Sky in 2012 along with Cal Poly, UC Davis and North Dakota, also earned an FCS playoff berth in 2013. From 2001-07, Southern Utah won just 17 of 76 games.
 

Mustang Notes

Protheroe (pictured at left) 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 on 43 carries against Brown earlier this year were career highs and he added 176 yards at Eastern Washington, 139 against Montana, 128 at Sacramento State, 147 versus UC Davis, 217 at Northern Arizona, 215 at Montana State and a new career high of 260 yards versus Idaho State, his 22nd career contest past the century mark. He surpassed the 3,000-yard mark for his career in the Montana game Sept. 29 and is only the second Mustang ever to rush for over 4,000 yards in a career.
 
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 were 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 (pictured at top of page) (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, 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, including cornerback Dominic Frasch (pictured at right), who leads the nation in passes defended (1.8 per game), along with 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 (55-58, 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. 1 in time of possession (35:06), No. 4 in rushing offense (333.2) and No. 6 in third-down conversion (48.9 percent) and are one of the fewest penalized teams in the FCS.
 

The Series

Cal Poly enjoys a 19-9 advantage in its series against Southern Utah dating back to 1986. The Mustangs haven't lost to the Thunderbirds at home since 1986, going 14-1, and Cal Poly is 5-8 in Cedar City following last year's 20-14 loss to the Thunderbirds. The Mustangs won nine straight games in the series from 2001-09. In 2015, also at Cedar City, Southern Utah won 54-37 even though Cal Poly produced four 100-yard rushers. Southern Utah returned three Mustang fumbles for touchdowns, two by Jason Needham. Jared Mohamed (107 yards), Kyle Lewis (121 yards), Chris Brown (110 yards) and DJ Peluso (108 yards) all surpassed the 100-yard mark, the second time the feat has been accomplished in the FCS. Davidson equalled the feat last week against San Diego. Tim Walsh is 5-4 against Southern Utah (3-3 as head coach at Cal Poly) while Warren is 1-0 against Cal Poly.
 
Warren was Southern Utah's defensive backs coach for six years and defensive coordinator for two seasons before he was named head coach prior to the 2016 campaign. Warren was a three-year letterman at running back for UC Davis before injuries cut short his senior season. A native of Fairfield, Warren earned his degree in African-American studies at UC Davis in 2008 and an MBA from University of Phoenix.
 

Final Thoughts

Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked to finish 10th (coaches) and 11th (media) in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the 2018 Big Sky crown. Southern Utah and Weber State shared the 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 as an independent for two more years. Idaho returned 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 63 of their last 88 home contests (71 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 103 of its last 182 games (55 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 22 of its last 52 and 41 of 90 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years. The Mustangs' win at Sacramento State on Oct. 6 snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
 
A total of 16 Mustang seniors will be honored in a pregame ceremony Saturday.
 
Photos of J.J. Koski and Joe Protheroe courtesy of Nathan Nybakke | Photography805.com
Photo of Dominic Frasch courtesy of Owen Main | www.fansmanship.com