Jordan Yocum missed his second game of the season in No. 19 Cal Poly’s 24-23 win over Southern Utah Saturday at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
The junior fullback, who ranked second in the Great West Football Conference with 86.25 rushing yards per game coming in, was available for the team’s Sept. 26 loss at San Jose State but did not play while nursing a hip bruise suffered the week before at Ohio.
On Saturday, Yocum was not even available. He walked the sideline in a jersey and black shorts, presumably dealing with a flare up of the same injury he had against the Bobcats.
Yocum’s absence gave another chance to former Templeton High standout Jake Romanelli. Romanelli got the start against the Spartans but was part of a costly fumble in Mustangs territory as San Jose State came back to win that game in the fourth quarter. Romanelli took full advantage of his opportunity early on against the Thunderbirds, bursting through the middle on a fullback option and running 23 yards for a diving touchdown in the first quarter.
The play was Romanelli’s longest as a Mustang, was his first touchdown at Cal Poly and put the Mustangs ahead 7-0. Romanelli had 10 carries for 59 yards in the first half and finished with 24 for 108.
Hall returns to lineup
With Yocum out, a familiar name was back on the fullback depth chart.
Senior Jon Hall, who converted to slotback in the offseason, was backing up Romanelli.
It was Hall’s first appearance since the Ohio game, where he aggravated a torn meniscus that had been lingering since training camp.
Hall missed all of the past three games recovering from arthroscopic surgery.
Hall’s first official carry went for 7 yards and gave Cal Poly a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line. He punched in the touchdown from 2 yards out three plays later to give the Mustangs a 14-7 lead.
Hall’s number was called earlier in the game, but Cal Poly quarterback Tony Smith was off the mark with an option pitch, and Hall struggled to control the ball. Southern Utah linebacker Eddie Mailoto appeared to recover the ball but could not get recover it until after he slid out of bounds.
In other injury news
Hall was not the only player returning to the lineup. Cal Poly receiver Dominique Johnson, who missed most of the past two games with a partial shoulder dislocation, returned to the starting lineup.
Johnson was the only Mustang with a catch in the first half after he caught two balls for 16 yards.
Smith also survived a scare at quarterback.
He was already iffy to start after suffering a thigh bruise in the first quarter of a 35-23 loss at Montana last week but further hurt his chances when he cut his hand earlier Saturday.
It was revealed that Smith needed stitches to close the cut, but he was able to throw in pregame warmups and held off second-string quarterback Andre Broadous to get the start.
On the defensive side, Mustangs cornerback Xavier Gardner returned to the starting lineup after being hurt late against South Dakota State on Oct. 3, and James Chen overcame a groin injury to start at defensive tackle.