DAVIS — Just as it has in its past three road games, the Cal Poly football team went into the half with the lead.
But the Mustangs (4-5, 1-2 Great West Football Conference) could have been in danger of losing that advantage before the half of Saturday’s 23-10 loss to UC Davis (5-4, 2-1 Great West) if not for the Aggies’ clock management early in the game.
UC Davis burned two of its three first-half timeouts in the first quarter, which allowed Cal Poly to run out the clock to keep the Aggies from potentially driving for the go-ahead score in the final two minutes of the second quarter.
UC Davis took over at its own 20-yard line after Cal Poly kicker Chris Pinto missed a 23-yard field goal, and the Mustangs clung to a 10-7 lead.
The Aggies promptly drove to midfield before the drive stalled and they were forced to punt. Cal Poly retook possession with 1:07 left and ran out the clock with three straight runs.
That drive could have ended differently had UC Davis had all of its timeouts. The Aggies could have forced the Mustangs to either pass or punt the ball away, giving UC Davis one last drive.
Chen comes back, run defense improves
Cal Poly defensive tackle James Chen sat out last week’s loss to North Dakota, a game where the Fighting Sioux controlled the ball with quarterback scrambles in the first half and consistent running with its halfback in the second half.
UC Davis entered Saturday’s game coming off its first 100-yard individual rushing performance and ran for more than 200 yards as a team against Southern Utah.
The concern for the Mustangs would be whether the Aggies would be able to run against them.
Coincidence or not, Chen, whose groin injury made his start a game-time decision, was back in the lineup, and UC Davis had its troubles on the ground.
The Aggies, which even ran a version of the single wing or wildcat offense, had 22 rushing yards on 10 attempts in the first half and finished with 99 yards on 29 carries.
Offensive line as healthy as can be
After a couple of weeks without right guard Will Mitchell, Cal Poly got its three-year starter back in the lineup.
Mitchell, who was out with a high ankle sprain, was at his guard spot, which allowed the team to move redshirt sophomore Scott Winewisser back to his regular spot at left tackle.
Winnewisser has also been bothered by an ankle injury, but with both of them at their regular spots, the Mustangs are back to full strength — right tackle Art Munoz, who has been out since September with a broken leg, being the only exception.
The results were mixed up front early on
Cal Poly took a 7-0 lead on a 42-yard run up the middle by Templeton High graduate Jake Romanelli, but the pass protection broke down when Tony Smith was later crushed for a sack as he dropped back to pass on an unsuccessful fourth-down conversion.
Gardner gets first interception
Senior cornerback Xavier Gardner picked up his first interception of the season and third of his career when he leapt to grab the ball while shading back on a zone coverage in the second quarter.
UC Davis quarterback Greg Denham had a man open underneath but tried to fit the ball deep between Gardner and the safety covering over the top.
But Gardner was able to stretch high enough to snag the ball and give Cal Poly a first down at the UC Davis 40-yard line.