Memories are always a bit sharper when it comes to recalling rivalry games.
Annual battles for trophies, bells, cups or whatever the sacred object may be seem to resonate much more than those that don’t.
And the only visions current UC Davis players have to summon about their annual football rivalry with Cal Poly — the Horseshoe Classic — are three straight losses, two by lopsided scores.
That should definitely raise the stakes between teams with identical 4-4 records, where the loser will be eliminated from Great West Football Conference title contention.
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“In any rivalry game, there’s going to be that type of mentality going into it,” Cal Poly senior running back Jon Hall said, “and I think definitely this rivalry is huge. It’s big that we beat them three years and we can get a fourth. That’s a really big thing for our school and for our senior class to have.”
The rivalry itself has been anything but a one-way street. Going into today’s game between the Mustangs and the Aggies, the all-time record is knotted at 12-12-2.
A single four-year class dominating the series is almost unheard of. In a matchup that dates to 1939, just once has either team won more than three in a row.
UC Davis had a streak of five straight snapped in 1987, 17 years before the teams began putting a golden horseshoe trophy on the line.
Prior to last season, the Mustangs had not beaten UC Davis three times in a row since 1982, but the past two of the current three-game streak have been doozies.
Led by NFL receiver Ramses Barden and the most potent offense in school history, Cal Poly beat UC Davis 51-28 last season, a score only dwarfed in the series by the Mustangs’ 63-28 win in 2007.
Those are the two biggest scoring totals in the history of the rivalry, and prior to those games, only once had either team scored more than 37 points. (Cal Poly won 41-0 in 1987.)
Anything less than a win would be a letdown, especially for the 12 Mustangs seniors who have yet to see the horseshoe leave Mott Gym.
“Our seniors, obviously for the same reasons, are eager to break this streak because they’re well aware that they haven’t beaten Cal Poly,” UC Davis head coach Bob Biggs said. “I think that’s added fuel to the rivalry on both sides.”
Said Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh: “I’m sure that they’re feeling a sense of they want to get it back and all those things, and maybe they think we’re ripe to take it back from.”
In fact, the Cal Poly offense is not near the juggernaut it was with Barden, fellow receiver Tre’dale Tolver, quarterback Jonathan Dally and running backs James Noble and Ryan Mole.
Plus, nearly the entire coaching staff turned over when former coach Rich Ellerson left for Army in the offseason, and Walsh and his crew came in with a completely new defensive scheme.
Add to that the fact that Cal Poly has been ravaged by injury and is winless in four road games, and this definitely looks like the best chance for a UC Davis victory since the Aggies’ last one in the series, a 20-13 win over a Mustangs team that reached the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals in 2005.
In each of the Mustangs’ past three road losses, Cal Poly led at halftime before faltering in the second half. Last week’s 31-14 loss at North Dakota was particularly deflating because it burst Cal Poly’s lingering playoff hopes.
Now the Mustangs must win two of their final three games this season, two of which come on the road, in order to avoid the program’s first losing season since 2002.
“There’s nothing we would love more than to get our first road win and do it at Davis,” Cal Poly senior defensive end Ryan Shotwell said. “It is a huge monkey on our back right now, and we need to throw it off and squash that bad taste we have about playing on the road.”