Throughout the week, Cal Poly head football coach Tim Walsh didn’t feel comfortable treating Saturday’s game with Idaho State as a formality, the speed bump on the way to a weighty season
finale that most people expected.
But it wasn’t long into the Mustangs’ 70-14 victory at Alex G. Spanos Stadium before it became clear that the Bengals really were the type of road obstruction you barely have to brake for.
Cal Poly (8-2, 6-1 Big Sky Conference) jumped out to a 35-0 first-half lead en route to racking up season highs for rushing offense, total offense and points against the Bengals (1-9, 0-7 Big Sky)
“When it was 28 to nothing,” Walsh said, “I pretty much knew we were going to win. I just didn’t know by how much we were going to win. But I wanted to make sure that our offense finished with a positive. When I took them out, I wanted to make sure we had that one last touchdown.”
The victory sets up a season finale at Northern Arizona next week where the Mustangs can clinch a share of the Big Sky title with a victory and could need to win to secure an at-large berth to their first FCS playoffs since 2008.
Cal Poly’s résumé would certainly appear much better if the Mustangs were winners in their last two games rather than losers in three of their final four.
After back-to-back losses at Sacramento State and Eastern Washington tarnished a 7-0 start to the season, Cal Poly was beginning to think it could all go for naught. As it is, hope for a championship and Walsh’s first playoff berth as the Mustangs’ head coach are still attainable.
A matchup against a Bengals team that came into the game ranking last in the FCS in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense was the perfect balm.
The 70 points were the most by a Cal Poly team since the Mustangs scored a 74-7 victory over Simon Fraser under Joe Harper in 1969. Being the fourth team to break 70 against Idaho State this season hardly mattered.
“We knew we had to get back on track,” Cal Poly running back Deonte Williams said. “We suffered two straight Ls. So, we had to get back on track with the wins. And tonight, we didn’t care about their record. Every team comes to play every weekend. So, we just prepared hard.”
Williams had 125 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, moving into fourth place on Cal Poly’s all-time single-season rushing list.
Passing former Miami Dolphins player Gary Davis, who had 1,244 yards for the Mustangs in 1975, Williams has 1,319 yards this season.
Akaninyene Umoh had 79 yards and a touchdown, Kristaan Ivory ran for 78 yards and Broadous scrambled for 49 as Cal Poly set a Division I program high with 505 total rushing yards.
The previous best in the Mustangs’ 19 seasons at the FCS level also came against Idaho State, when Jonathan Dally, Ryan Mole and James Noble helped Cal Poly run for 459 yards against the Bengals in 2008.
Idaho State quarterback Kevin Yost passed for 335 yards and two touchdowns, completing 37 of 58 passes.
But the Mustangs truly turned the game when Bengals receivers were unable to hold onto Yost passes that turned into Cal Poly picks.
On senior night, four-year starting linebacker Kennith Jackson had two first-quarter interceptions on tipped balls to end Idaho State’s first two drives. Safety Alex Hubbard had a 15-yard interception return that was tipped by Cal Poly linebacker Cameron Onkto and cornerback Vante Smith-Johnson late in the third quarter.
“Defensively, we knew they were going to get yards throwing the ball,” Walsh said. “That’s what they do, but I thought we broke on the ball, and when the balls got deflected because everybody was running to the football once again, we got some major interceptions that really quickly turned the game in our favor.”
Saturday was also the playing debut of reserve quarterback Kenny Johnston and junior defensive end Amir Tadros.
Johnston led a scoring drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown run by fifth-year senior running back Ryan Solomon.
It was the second career touchdown for Solomon, a longtime backup who nearly retired with a bum knee before the season. Johnston, a junior and the son of former Division II national championship-winning Cal Poly quarterback Craig Johnston, has served on the scout team each of the past three seasons.
On their touchdown drive, fifth-year senior receiver Ryan Taylor attempted and made his first career extra point.
Tadros, who will graduate and move on to medical school after this season, also received his first career action, making a tackle in the process.
“Those are great stories for those guys because of all the hard work they put in and sometimes they get no glory out of it,” Walsh said. “But to be able to get them in a game like this, I think, was phenomenal for them.”