A crucial early season conference game for the Cal Poly football team was quickly put out of reach as UC Davis piled on 24 first quarter points and survived a late Mustangs comeback for a 48-24 Big Sky Conference victory in a Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Saturday afternoon.
The Mustangs (2-3, 1-2) dropped their second straight Big Sky Conference game after a thrilling overtime loss to Montana State at home last week, dampening playoff hopes.
For as good as Cal Poly looked in the fourth quarter in the Montana State game, on Saturday they looked every bit the team that let the Bobcats stake a 28-7 lead through the first three quarters.
UC Davis led 34-0 before Cal Poly was able to score.
They showed signs of life, scoring 24 unanswered points to cut a 34 point lead to 10 and possessed the ball in the Aggie red zone, but a Jalen Hamler pitch was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
Last season, the Aggies blew Cal Poly out 52-10. They finished the year 10-3 to earn a share of the Big Sky title and a quarterfinal showing in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Aggies (3-4, 1-2) returned 15 starters from last season, but that talent had yet to consistently surface this season — until Saturday’s game.
The first six drives for UC Davis all resulted in points and it took until late in the second quarter for the Mustangs to pass midfield.
The first quarter ended with 56 total yards for Cal Poly, all of which were rushing yards. Cal Poly ultimately scored on a Duy Tran-Sampson rush from a yard out, his first since the opening game against San Diego.
Former Arroyo Grande standout Colton Theaker hit a career-best 52-yard-field goal with 24 seconds left in the first half.
Cal Poly’s triple option is not built for quick strikes and when the defense can’t get stops, it leads to insurmountable deficits.
Mustang quarterback Hamler was 13 of 20 for 243 yards and threw for a touchdown. The redshirt freshman had two interceptions and a fumble. Aggie quarterback Jake Maier was 23 of 36 for 378 yards and four touchdowns.
Quentin Harrison also had a 69-yard touchdown reception for the Mustangs.
Two NFL teams were rumored to have scouts at the game, possibly for Maier and Mustang wideout J.J. Koski.
If they were indeed at the game, Koski gave them a show.
Head coach Tim Walsh has said all season that he projects Koski as a mid-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The senior had only one catch for 26 yards against Montana State, but in the first half against UC Davis he carried the offense with four catches for 99 yards.
He finished with 8 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown.
Koski has 26 receptions for 563 yards and is averaging 21.6 yards per catch with 4 touchdowns on the season.
Cal Poly will play North Dakota at home. The Fighting Hawks are 3-3.