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Cal Poly Plays Two of Final Three Games on the Road, Visits Idaho

Cal Poly Plays Two of Final Three Games on the Road, Visits Idaho
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-6, 1-4 Big Sky), which has lost four straight games, all against teams currently in the FCS top 25 polls, since a 2-2 start, plays two of its final three games of the 2019 season on the road, beginning with Idaho (3-5, 1-3 Big Sky) in a Big Sky Conference game inside the ASUI Kibbie Dome (cap.: 16,000) at Moscow, Idaho.
 
Kickoff is set for 2:05 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 Vernon (Veejay) Huskey (analyst). Pregame show starts at 1:30 p.m. The game also will be streamed on Pluto TV Channel 542 and WatchBigSky.com. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
 
Cal Poly racked up 607 yards of total offense in a season-opening 52-34 win over San Diego, led by redshirt freshman Jalen Hamler and sophomore fullback Duy Tran-Sampson. In his first game in a Mustang uniform, Hamler passed for 221 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 96 yards and two more scores en route to ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors. Tran-Sampson, who had just one carry for four yards as a redshirt freshman behind record-breaker Joe Protheroe a year ago, sprinted 87 yards on his first carry of 2019  for a touchdown and finished with 172 yards and two scores, averaging 11.5 yards per carry.
 
Opening a three-game September road trip in Ogden, Utah, on Sept. 7, the Mustangs were held to 164 rushing yards and had the ball for just 24 minutes, 45 seconds in a 41-24 setback versus Weber State. Playing its second game ever against a Pac-12 school four weeks ago, Cal Poly fell 45-7 at Oregon State. Tran-Sampson rushed for 137 yards on 29 carries and Hamler hit redshirt freshman wide receiver Xavier Moore with an eight-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7. The Beavers scored 38 unanswered points to win going away.
 
In a Big Sky-opening 24-21 win at Southern Utah on Sept. 28, Hamler ran for two scores, Jake Jeffrey added another scoring run and Colton Theaker connected on a 36-yard field goal. The Thunderbirds had a chance to send the game into overtime, but a 36-yard field goal attempt with 2:10 to play hit the left upright and Cal Poly was able to run out the clock. Montana State let a 21-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but Travis Jonsen ran nine yards in overtime as the Bobcats beat the Mustangs 34-28. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for nearly 39 minutes, including a 94-yard, 20-play drive that lasted 11 minutes, 40 seconds in the first quarter.
 
Three weeks ago, UC Davis scored the first 34 points of the game and Cal Poly answered with 24 points of its own and drove to the Aggie 16-yard line on its next possession before UC Davis turned the Mustangs away with two scores in the final 11 minutes for a 48-24 win. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for over 33 minutes, but lost the turnover battle 3-0, punted eight times, did not record any sacks and was penalized a season-high 12 times for 102 yards in the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe. On Oct. 19, Cal Poly let 17-7, 23-14 and 26-24 leads slip away in a 30-26 loss to North Dakota, spoiling a 40-carry, 173-yard performance by Tran-Sampson. It was the Mustangs' first loss in four years when leading at halftime. Sacramento State scored the first 24 points of the game and never looked back in a 38-14 triumph last week, accumulating 503 yards in total offense and holding the Mustangs to a season-low 116 rushing yards.
 
Coming off a bye week, Idaho defeated in-state rival Idaho State 45-21 two weeks ago in Moscow, jumping to a 24-0 lead early in the second quarter. Lloyd Hightower returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown and also ran 49 yards with a fumble recovery for another score while quarterback Colton Richardson threw a pair of touchdown passes, completing 17 of 25 for 289 yards.
 
Under seventh-year head coach Paul Petrino, Idaho has defeated Central Washington, Eastern Washington and Idaho State while falling to Penn State, Wyoming, Northern Colorado, Weber State and Portland State. The Vandals snapped a three-game losing streak with the win over Idaho State. Idaho is No. 4 in the FCS in kickoff returns (26.80), No. 5 in defensive touchdowns (3) and No. 16 in third-down conversion percentage by the defense (31.5 percent).
 
Idaho returned a total of 47 lettermen, including 13 starters — eight on offense and five on defense — off last year's squad which posted a 4-7 mark. The Vandals were members of the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision for 18 years before returning to the Football Championship Subdivision and the Big Sky a year ago, earning a 3-5 conference mark for a ninth-place tie in the 13-team league.
 
Petrino (26-53, Carroll College '89), an assistant coach under his father, Bob Petrino, at Carroll College from 1990-91, was an assistant at Idaho from 1992-94, resulting in three consecutive NCAA playoff appearances. Highlight of his previous six years at Idaho was the 2016 team which went 9-4 and won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl over Colorado State. Petrino was voted the 2016 Sun Belt Coach of the Year.
 
During his 23 years as an assistant, Petrino coached in 12 bowl games and five FCS playoff games. He spent one season (2007) with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons. As a Division I coach, he was on staffs who combined for a 152-93 record – a .650 winning percentage.
 
A native of Butte, Mont., Petrino's stints as an assistant coach after Carroll College and Idaho included Utah State, Southern Mississippi, Louisville again, Atlanta Falcons, Arkansas, Illinois and Arkansas again. 
 
So far this year, Richardson has completed 29 of 53 passes for 434 yards and two touchdowns in four games. He replaced starter Mason Petrino, a son of the head coach, after suffering a concussion in the Portland State game Oct. 12. Petrino, listed No. 1 on the Idaho depth chart at quarterback this week, has connected on 122 of 194 passes (63 percent) for 1,233 yards and eight touchdowns with seven interceptions. Top two Vandal running backs are Aundre Carter (73 carries, 378 yards, five TDs) and Nick Romano (63-324-1) and the leading receivers are Jeff Cotton (59 catches, 748 yards, four TDs) and Cutrell Haywood (42-397-4).
 
Idaho averages 380 yards and 25 points per game, rushing for 165 yards and passing for 215 yards each contest. The Vandals have allowed 418 yards and 34 points a game, including 179 yards on the ground and 239 through the air.
 
Cal Poly and Idaho are meeting for the first time in football since 2007 and for just the third time overall. Both previous meetings were in Moscow, with the Vandals winning 38-33 in 1996 and 20-13 in 2007. 
 
Tim Walsh is 0-2 against Idaho, both decisions while he was head coach at Portland State. while Paul Petrino is facing Cal Poly for the first time as well.
 
Cal Poly returned 10 starters on defense and six on offense. Biggest holes to fill were at outside linebacker (three players with five or more starts are gone) and right up the middle on offense — Protheroe, quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and center Harry Whitson, one of four offensive linemen with five or more starts who are gone. Whitson is now an offensive analyst with the Mustangs.
 
Protheroe amassed 1,810 yards on 363 carries last season, raising his career totals to 861 carries and 4,271 yards, all new school records. His 23 career 100-yard games, including five over the 200-yard mark, also are school records, and Protheroe earned seven All-America honors in 2018 after leading the Big Sky and FCS in rushing. Jenkins rushed for 664 yards and passed for 777 more yards, accounting for nine touchdowns in each category. 
 
Top Mustang returnees are wide receiver J.J. Koski, offensive linemen Paul Trujillo-Langdon and Tyler Whisenhunt and the top four tacklers on defense in 2018 — inside linebackers Matt Shotwell (90 tackles) and Nik Navarro (83 tackles) and safeties Kitu Humphrey (67 tackles) and Carter Nichols (59 tackles). Koski led the Mustangs in receiving for the second straight year with 33 catches for 666 yards and four scores in 2018. Trujillo-Langdon moved from right guard to center to replace Whitson and Whisenhunt remained at left tackle after earning second-team All-Big Sky honors a year ago.
 
Drew Hernandez (664 yards, 7.6 yards per carry, nine touchdowns) and J'uan Campbell (195 yards, two scores) headed the list of returning slot backs this fall, but Hernandez missed the first two games due to injury and Campbell likely will redshirt. Replacing Protheroe at fullback are Tran-Sampson, senior Trey Nahhas, redshirt freshman Ryan Rivera and grayshirt Dusty Frampton
 
So far this fall, Tran-Sampson has rushed for 757 yards and four touchdowns, producing three 100-yard games, while Hamler, who won a three-man battle with sophomore Kyle Reid and junior Jake Jeffrey for the vacant quarterback position, has added 431 yards and seven scores while completing 51 of 82 passes (62 percent) for 955 yards and nine touchdowns. Hamler is No. 1 in the Big Sky in passing efficiency. Koski has caught 32 passes for 684 yards and five scores, establishing new career highs three weeks ago at UC Davis with eight catches for 163 yards, and is No. 7 in career receptions (111) and receiving yards (1,964) at Cal Poly.
 
On defense, only two of the top 10 players at the three positions on the defensive front last year are gone. Sophomore Jojo Falo made five starts at defensive tackle, sophomore Pono Faaagi started seven games at nose tackle and sophomore Myles Cecil played all 11 games with seven starts at the defensive end spot. Cecil had 39 tackles, Falo 15 and Faaagi 11 a year ago. Falo suffered an injury on the first play of the season-opening San Diego game and is out for the season.
 
Dominic Frasch, the national leader in passes defended a year ago, has moved on, but the secondary has plenty of returning experience. Junior field cornerback Kevin Howell played in nine games in 2018 while senior Sharky Reza (15 tackles, five pass breakups in 2018) tops the field at boundary corner. Senior Carter Nichols (59 tackles, five pass breakups in 2018) and junior Bradley Mickey (10 tackles) are the top two candidates at field safety while senior Kitu Humphrey (67 tackles, nine pass breakups) returns for his final season at boundary safety.
 
Junior linebacker Matt Shotwell leads Cal Poly's defense with 70 tackles, No. 6 in the Big Sky, while Humphrey has 57 tackles.
 
Coached by Tim Walsh (11th season at Cal Poly (58-64), 29th season overall (174-146), UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly's football program celebrated a trio of milestones last fall. The Mustangs played their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level while Walsh completed his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
 
Cal Poly played eight games against teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at one time or another last year. In addition, Sacramento State earned votes in a preseason poll while Southern Utah earned a share of the Big Sky title in 2017. Despite the difficult schedule, the 14th-toughest in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, the Mustangs managed a four-win improvement over 2017.
 
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked to finish ninth by both the head coaches and the media in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the 2019 Big Sky crown, followed by UC Davis and Weber State.
 
The Big Sky lost North Dakota in its lineup last fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule as an independent for one more season before moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. Idaho, once a Pac-8 member in the 1960s, returned to the Big Sky last 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 65 of their last 93 home contests (71 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 106 of its last 191 games (56 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 23 of its last 56 and 42 of 94 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years.
 
Cal Poly has a bye next week and plays its final home game of the 2019 season Saturday, Nov. 16, against Eastern Washington. The Homecoming contest inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium kicks off at 5:05 p.m.