Cal Poly football players and coaches referred to Saturday’s 35-27 victory over Montana State as a “championship game.”
The victory moved the Mustangs (6-3, 5-1 Big Sky Conference) into a first-place tie with Eastern Washington by half a game over four other teams at 4-1 and completed a high-profile sweep over two nationally ranked teams from the state of Montana.
But Cal Poly still has two conference games to play in the final three weeks of the season, and Saturday, it just happens to be at upstart Idaho State (6-3, 4-1 Big Sky), which is one of the teams knotted in third.
“For us, every game we’ve played” since a 38-35 late September loss knocked the Mustangs to 1-3, “has kind of been you better win,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “So, I think our guys get the fact that we better.
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“I don’t expect to have any problem with our team’s focus.”
Idaho State has been the surprise of the Big Sky so far. The Bengals have the top passing attack in the country and are second nationally with 563.2 yards of total offense per game. In scoring 41 points per game, Idaho State ranks eighth in the FCS.
The number are even more striking against like opposition. Since losing the two opening games against FBS opponents Utah and Utah State, the Bengals are averaging 47.9 points. And the success in the win column is a huge change for Idaho State. Since head coach Mike Kramer took over in 2011, the Bengals were just 2-22 in Big Sky play before this year. Overall, they were 6-28.
The losses included a 70-14 defeat to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in 2012.
“I’ve known Mike Kramer for a long time,” Walsh said. “He had a plan, he executed the plan very well. When he arrived at Idaho State, he said he was going to recruit a lot of young players, they were going to change what they were doing, and by the time they got to year four and five, they were going to be pretty good, and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
“When we played them a couple years ago, they moved the ball, but they didn’t get in the end zone very often. And that’s the key to being a good football team is is you have to score touchdowns to win games.”
Win or go home for Mustangs
The Cal Poly men’s soccer team needs nothing less than a victory in today’s 2 p.m. regular-season finale at UC Davis to keep the season alive and qualify for the Big West Conference Tournament.
The Mustangs (11-8-6, 3-4-2 Big West) are in with a win against the Aggies (14-6-3, 4-3-2 Big West), but a loss or a draw would end their season.
Cal Poly could also use some help from archrival UC Santa Barbara, which sealed at least a share of the conference crown and a first-round bye with a 2-0 victory over the Mustangs on Sunday. If the Gauchos beat or tie Sacramento State, Cal Poly could finish as high as second in the Big West North and would host a first-round conference tournament game this weekend.
If the Hornets win, the Mustangs would be dropped to third and go on the road.
All of the above would be moot if Cal Poly cannot beat UC Davis, which topped the Mustangs 1-0 on Oct. 22. A loss could also signal the end of interim head coach Phil Ruskin’s tenure with the team.
Cal Poly athletic director Don Oberhelman said the department will launch a national search at the conclusion of the season to replace former head coach Paul Holocher, who abruptly resigned the week before training camp started in August.
Ruskin’s interview for the job has been ongoing all season, and he said he hasn’t thought much about it coming to an end.
“Not that much, I’ll be honest with you,” Ruskin said. “I think the focus is still on winning the game and preparing as though we’re going to be playing in the conference tournament next week.”
Mustangs lose guard Taylor Sutlive to ACL tear
The Cal Poly men’s basketball team has lost its second player to a season-ending knee surgery.
After junior post player Zach Gordon tore his ACL in an offseason summer league, now, sophomore guard Taylor Sutlive has been lost for the year with his own ACL tear, Mustangs head coach Joe Callero announced via Twitter on Tuesday.
“Please tweet your support @taylorsutlive11,” Callero tweeted. “He will need to redshirt this season with ACL surgery in 2 weeks!”
Sutlive is an outside shooting specialist who was in line for an upgrade in playing time this year. As a true freshman last season, the 6-foot-3, 193-pound San Antonio (Texas) Churchill High product averaged 8.1 minutes playing in 22 of 34 games.
He shot a team-leading 45.2 percent (19 for 42) from 3-point range and was 45.8 percent from the floor overall. He had a career-high 14 points and four 3-pointers against Cal State Dominguez Hills and scored 11 in a victory at UC Santa Barbara.