Looking back on Cal Poly’s last visit to Washington-Grizzly Stadium two years ago — a 21-14 overtime loss — senior center Stephen Sippel remembers a maroon-clad crowd rocking one of the Big Sky Conference’s most exciting venues.
The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Sippel is set to start his 25th consecutive game Saturday night against a Montana team injected with confidence from its come-from-behind win against then top-ranked North Dakota State last week.
Sippel anchors the Mustangs’ offensive line that’s paved the way to consecutive seasons leading the FCS in rushing. Flanked by Nick Enriquez and Joey Kuperman at the guard positions, and Matthew Fisher and Atascadero High grad Weston Walker at the tackle spots, Sippel said the veteran group likes to keep things simple.
“Be physical, do what we do, don’t make too many mistakes,” Sippel said. “If we do that, I think a lot of times it works out well for us.”
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Head coach Tim Walsh said early in fall camp he saw the potential to go 10 or 11 players deep along the offensive line if everyone stays healthy. That hasn’t always been the case in recent years and it’s part of the reason Sippel and Walker have played more than 60 combined games in their careers.
During last year’s 41-21 upset win over Montana at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, the Mustangs rushed for 421 yards, averaging more then 6 yards per carry. Behind Chris Brown’s school-record 226-yard outburst, Cal Poly gashed the Grizzlies defense like few other opponents in 2014.
Montana all-Big Sky defensive linemen Tonga Takai, Zach Wagenmann (a three-time first-team selection) and Trevor Rehm have graduated, leaving veteran Tyrone Holmes to lead the Grizzlies’ 4-3 front.
Holmes, a 6-4, 245-pound defensive end, ranks in the top 12 in Montana history in career sacks (16½) and tackles for loss (26½). He made eight tackles, including one sack, and forced a fumble against North Dakota State last week.
After giving up 28 points in the first half of that contest, the Grizzlies tightened up defensively and held the Bison to one touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought defensively they did a great job in the second half,” Walsh said. “They made great adjustments and played better football in the second half all the way around.”
Montana will be without one of its top interior lineman Saturday after fourth-year junior defensive tackle Caleb Kidder injured his leg against the Bison. The 6-5, 275-pound Kidder reportedly needed surgery to relieve pressure in his leg and is expected to be back in the lineup later this season.