The Cal Poly community never really got the full effect of Dano Graves when he was one of four quarterbacks involved in an offseason competition to become the Mustangs’ starting quarterback.
It wasn’t hard to be more impressed by the other candidates after watching the former high school player of the year struggle behind a fill-in offensive line during the spring game and training camp scrimmage.
The football team itself was even left with questions.
“We couldn’t really map out where Dano was,” senior slotback Cole Stanford said.
“Athletically — after he hurt his ankle — and technique-wise, we didn’t really know where he was, but tonight, he came out and made a big statement to our conference and the team as a whole. We have confidence in him now.”
Graves, an Air Force transfer making his first collegiate start, showed flashes of what made him such a record-breaking state champion at Folsom High, leading Cal Poly (3-3, 2-0 Big Sky Conference) to a 47-0 victory over Weber State at Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday.
Graves passed for 169 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a team-high 116 yards stepping in for Chris Brown, who was injured and ineffective in last week’s disappointing 24-10 home loss to Yale.
Continually knocked for being undersized, Graves has always considered himself a “gamer” — a win-focused competitor whose true value might only show once the stadium lights are lit.
For him, this week of practice was about getting that feeling back. He hadn’t played meaningful snaps in a collegiate game after leading Folsom to the CIF Division III state title in 2010.
“The hard work that we do throughout the week is going to pay off because we had a great work week,” Graves said, “and it’s also going to give our team some positive thoughts. We’re getting rolling, and we need to stay with that.
“Hopefully, I’m back. You know what I mean? I just need to go out and have fun every week.”
Kristaan Ivory, the leading rusher in the Big Sky coming into the game, ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns and added a 6-yard touchdown catch from Graves in the second quarter. Ivory scored the first three touchdowns of the game, and Cal Poly cruised to a 20-0 halftime lead over the Wildcats (1-6, 0-3 Big Sky).
Stanford had a team-high five receptions for 62 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown catch from Graves. Akaninyene Umoh and Graves hooked up on a 38-yard scoring pass, and fullbacks Brandon Howe and Matt Rulon each had one short touchdown run.
The 47 points was a season high, but Weber State had allowed opponents to score an average of 49.2 points coming into the game.
The Wildcats have had a tough schedule, playing two FBS opponents and two top-10 FCS teams, but there is no mistaking that Weber State, banged up as much as anybody, is one of the bottom-rung teams in the Big Sky.
“We probably did what we should do,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “But our mental preparation, our emotion. We played like an emotional Cal Poly football team today, and we played almost mistake free and that’s the result.”
Considering Weber State has given up the most points in the FCS, Stanford said: “I thought we were going to put up the points, but when’s the last time we put up 47 and shut them out?”
Good question. Here’s the answer.
The Mustangs blanked Savannah State 55-0 in 2006. That’s also the last time Cal Poly shut out an opponent. It hadn’t happened under Walsh, who took over the reins of the programs in 2009.
The Wildcats finished with just 173 yards of total offense, the lowest total allowed in the Walsh era and lowest allowed at Spanos Stadium since North Carolina Central mustered just 123 yards in 2008.
Weber State was just 4 of 16 on third-down conversions and gained just 10 first downs.
Though coming against an overmatched opponent, it was as complete a performance as Cal Poly could have mapped out, which hadn’t happened most of the season.
The Mustangs had played great second halves in losses to Fresno State and Colorado State, and they blew a first-half lead while getting shut out by Yale in the second half last week.
Going into next week’s showdown at Montana (5-1, 2-1 Big Sky), which ran away from UC Davis 42-7, Cal Poly was in need of a morale-boosting experience.
“We’d been putting one half together,” senior safety Alex Hubbard said. “One half here, one half there. We finally put a game together and got good results.
Against Montana, “We’re gonna bring it. We have no choice but to bring, it. We don’t bring it, bad things happen. We bring it, good things happen. That’s all we can say.”