Watching from the sideline of last year’s season finale taught Andre Broadous a lesson that has proven invaluable to this season’s Cal Poly football team.
With an injury to his throwing shoulder limiting his health to 85 or 90 percent, the quarterback was available to play but could only watch as coaches elected to rest him and the Mustangs blew a 21-point first-half lead to fall to rival UC Davis in what likely was a win-and-you’re-in playoff game for Cal Poly.
The Mustangs ended up with a 22-21 defeat in the final minute and were not surprisingly left out of the 20-team FCS playoff bracket, one win short of the seven Division I victories suggested by the NCAA for consideration.
“It hurt me,” Broadous said. “Even though I didn’t play the game, it hurt me a lot because I wanted to go to the playoffs and play in that game as well. So, it definitely gave me some extra motivation.
“It showed us that we have to play a great second half to beat teams in our league.”
The UC Davis defeat struck a chord with other Cal Poly players and coaches, too, and having that loss as a reminder might be the understated secret ingredient to comeback victories by the Mustangs (5-3, 3-0 Great West Conference) in each of their past four games.
In addition to keeping their playoff hopes alive, those wins have helped Cal Poly clinch at least a share of the last Great West title before the football members leave for other conferences after this season. Another win against the last-place Aggies (2-6, 0-2 Great West) today in Davis would secure it outright.
But similar to last season’s situation, a loss would likely end the playoff hopes of a Mustangs team on the bubble for an at-large berth. Mark Rodgers will be out for the second straight week after separating his shoulder at North Dakota on Oct. 22. The senior slotback has already let head coach Tim Walsh and the rest of the team know how much he looked forward to a rematch with the Aggies.
“He goes, ‘After every workout I did this summer,’ ” Walsh quoted Rodgers, “ ‘I did one extra rep of everything because I wanted to remember Davis.’
“He was pretty emotional this entire week, and it’s tough for me because I have a lot of respect for the guy because he’s a great player, and he’s a great kid. That probably helps us from a motivational factor.
“It’s firm in the minds of the guys that were here last year.”
Defensive end Gavin Cooper has been a part-time player in his senior season as he struggles with an ankle that underwent two offseason surgeries.
What started as a lingering injury early last season deteriorated so precipitously in the second half of the loss to the Aggies that Cooper was unable to walk.
Like others on the team, Cooper imagines that one more big play could have changed the entire season.
“I put it on my shoulders,” said Cooper, who has four tackles — three of them sacks — while playing primarily on passing downs after making his season debut four weeks ago. “Because one sack ruins one drive; they don’t score and they don’t win. And I couldn’t get a pass rush, so I lost the game.
“Right now, you don’t really know, but when I look back on high school, the only games I remember are big losses. So, it’ll probably be one that you remember for a long time.”
On paper, Cal Poly should recapture the Golden Horseshoe trophy up for grabs between the rivals heading into the following week’s home finale against reigning FCS champion Eastern Washington.
Opponents have outscored UC Davis by an average of 11.4 points per game, and the Aggies defense has struggled against the run, where the Mustangs rank eighth nationally with 249.8 yards per game.
UC Davis ranks 100th out of 120 teams allowing 421 offensive yards per game, and the Aggies have given up 4.7 yards per rush.
They allowed a season-high 6 yards per carry in a 34-3 loss at Southern Utah last week.
Cal Poly fullback Jake Romanelli, who has 731 rushing yards and averages 4.8 yards per carry, has outrushed the entire Aggies team (619 yards).
Walsh is 0-2 against UC Davis as head coach of the Mustangs. Both years, including a 23-10 loss at Aggie Stadium in 2009, Cal Poly watched first-half leads evaporate.
But the Aggies have yet to face Broadous, who has run for 537 yards and 13 touchdowns, ranks fourth in the FCS nationally in scoring with 9.75 points per game and has yet to throw an interception in his college career.
Though it’s an unofficial statistic, Broadous has the longest known streak of passes in program history without an interception at 191, and Cal Poly is the only FCS team that hasn’t thrown a pick this season.
Former Mustangs quarterback Jonathan Dally had 89 attempts without an interception in a span that encompassed his final throw of 2007 through the sixth game of 2008, and Chris Peterson had a 74-pass streak in 2003.
Unlike the other two, however, Broadous does not have to risk putting the ball in the air when he can adeptly scramble for yardage, and the Aggies will have to prepare for that.
“It gives them somebody else that they have to be concerned about,” Walsh said. “Andre’s a different guy with the ball in his hands, and you better treat him like a running back because he’s capable of rushing for 100 yards on any given week.”