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Cal Poly Preparing to Host Eastern Washington for Final Home Game

Cal Poly Preparing to Host Eastern Washington for Final Home Game
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-7, 1-5 Big Sky), which has lost five straight games, four against teams currently in the FCS top 25 polls, since a 2-2 start, plays its final home game of the 2019 season Saturday, hosting Eastern Washington (5-5, 4-2 Big Sky) in a Big Sky Conference game inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075) in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
 
Kickoff is set for 5:05 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 4:30 p.m. The game also will be streamed on Pluto TV Channel 544 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 seven 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.
 
Five 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 three weeks ago, accumulating 503 yards in total offense and holding the Mustangs to a season-low 116 rushing yards. Cal Poly fell 21-9 at Idaho on Nov. 2 as the Mustangs struggled offensively again, rushing for just 145 yards. Cal Poly led for 28 minutes of the first half as Colton Theaker kicked a 44-yard field goal, but Idaho scored 21 unanswered points and never looked back.
 
Eastern Washington held Idaho State without a touchdown in a 48-5 victory last week in Pocatello, Idaho. In winning on the road for the first time in five tries this season and beating the Bengals for the 11th straight time, the Eagles accumulated 689 yards of total offense, led by junior quarterback Eric Barriere as he completed 23 of 38 passes for 406 yards and three scores and rushed for 61 yards en route to Big Sky offensive player of the week for the second straight week. Antoine Custer rushed for 145 yards, including an 89-yard touchdown run, and Andrew Boston caught 10 passes for 147 yards and two scores.
 
Under third-year head coach Aaron Best, Eastern Washington, 2019 NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision national champion and 2018 runner-up, lost five of its first eight games this season before bouncing back with a 66-38 win against Northern Arizona and last week's victory at Idaho State. The Eagles also have defeated Lindenwood, North Dakota and Northern Colorado. Eastern Washington leads the FCS in total offense (524.3 yards-per-game average) and is No. 2 in passing offense (336.9), No. 5 in scoring offense (39.2) and first downs (247), No. 10 with a plus-10 turnover margin and No. 16 with just four lost fumbles.
 
Eastern Washington returned a total of 48 lettermen, including nine starters — five on offense and four on defense — off last year's squad which posted a 12-3 mark, shared the Big Sky title with UC Davis and Weber State, all with 7-1 marks, and lost to North Dakota State 38-24 in the FCS title game. The Eagles joined the Big Sky in 1987, have won or shared the conference title 10 times, including six in the last nine seasons, and have qualified for the FCS playoffs 13 times. Three former Eagles were Walter Payton Award winners — wide receiver Cooper Kupp in 2015, Bo Levi Mitchell in 2011 and Erik Meyer in 2005 — while J.C. Sherritt (2010) and Greg Peach (2008) were Buck Buchanan Award winners. Kupp also claimed the Jerry Rice Award in 2012 as the Freshman of the Year. Vernon Adams was runner-up for the Payton award in 2013 and 2014.
 
The Eagles have earned winning seasons 21 times in the last 23 years, winning 66 percent of their games (189-97) and 126 of 172 Big Sky contests (73 percent). Eastern Washington has posted a 5-3 record or better in Big Sky games 12 years in a row, is 47-11 in Big Sky contests since an 0-2 start in 2011 and sports a 56-10 overall mark at red-turfed Roos Field since 2010.
 
Best (third season, 24-12, Eastern Washington '01) replaced Beau Baldwin as the Eagles' head coach on Jan. 21, 2017, after 20 seasons as a player (offensive lineman) and assistant coach at Eastern Washington.
 
So far this year, Barriere has completed 61 percent of his passes (235 of 387) for 3,276 yards and 27 touchdowns with four interceptions. Custer has rushed for 903 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry, while Barriere has accumulated 371 yards and six scores on the ground. Favorite targets are Boston with 45 receptions for 625 yards and five scores and Jayson Williams with 42 catches for 504 yards and five touchdowns. Safety Dehonta Hayes has 105 tackles (55 solo) in 10 games, Dre' Sonte Dorton returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score and two Eagles (Andrew Katzenberger and Joe Lang) have returned fumbles for touchdowns this season.
 
Eastern Washington averages 524 yards and 39 points per game, rushing for 187 yards and passing for 337 yards each contest. The Eagles have allowed 431 yards and 33 points a game, including 154 yards on the ground and 277 through the air.
 
Cal Poly and Eastern Washington will be playing each other in football for the 11th time Saturday. The Eagles have an 8-2 series advantage, 5-0 at home, and a six-game winning streak in the series after defeating the Mustangs 70-17 in 2018 at Roos Field. Eastern Washington earned a 42-21 victory in 2016 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
 
Tim Walsh is 7-14 against Eastern Washington -- 0-1 while coaching at Sonoma State, 7-7 while at Portland State and 0-6 at Cal Poly -- while Aaron Best is 1-0 against Cal Poly.
 
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 813 yards and four touchdowns, producing three 100-yard games. He needs 187 yards in Cal Poly's final two games to become the 23rd Mustang to reach 1,000 yards in a single season. Hamler, who won a three-man battle with sophomore Kyle Reid and junior Jake Jeffrey for the vacant quarterback position, has added 424 yards and eight scores while completing 55 of 94 passes (59 percent) for 1,052 yards and nine touchdowns. Hamler is No. 1 in the Big Sky in passing efficiency. Koski, who has been selected to play in the 2020 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Jan. 18 at the Rose Bowl, has caught 36 passes for 781 yards and five scores, establishing new career highs last month at UC Davis with eight catches for 163 yards, and is No. 7 in career receptions (115) and No. 8 in receiving yards (2,061) 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 81 tackles, No. 6 in the Big Sky, while Humphrey has 65 tackles.
 
Coached by Tim Walsh (11th season at Cal Poly (58-65), 29th season overall (174-147), 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 are playing a Big Sky schedule as an independent this year 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 192 games (56 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 23 of its last 57 and 42 of 95 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years.
 
Saturday's game is Alumni Weekend (A Homecoming Celebration), Hats off to Heroes (free admission to military and first responders) and Senior Night with 16 Mustangs to be honored in a pregame ceremony. Cal Poly wraps up its 2019 campaign Nov. 16 at Northern Colorado, with kickoff slated for 11:05 a.m. PST.
 
Photo courtesy of Owen Main | www.fansmanship.com