Asked what comes to mind when he thinks about last year’s heartbreaking loss to UC Davis, Cal Poly senior Jordan Hines quickly remembers one of the few not-so-proud moments of his collegiate career.
Trailing by three touchdowns and with the Mustangs driving into Aggies’ territory early in the fourth quarter, quarterback Chris Brown connected with Elias Stokes on a 12-yard pass toward the sideline. Emotions already running high, a UC Davis linebacker stepped over Stokes after making the tackle and pushed his head to the ground.
“I was looking around like, ‘Nobody is going to do anything?’ ” Hines said. “So I ran up to him and said something, and I ended up getting a personal foul.”
It was probably one of the only times the mild-mannered wide receiver has been called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during his 42-game career. A few minutes later, Cal Poly had a first-and-goal opportunity from the 6-yard line.
Four straight runs by Brown couldn’t get the Mustangs in the end zone, and the 20-point deficit seemed nearly insurmountable. Hines went on to catch a 33-yard touchdown pass on Cal Poly’s ensuing possession, but the deficit was too much to overcome.
Just like that, a one-win UC Davis team knocked Cal Poly out of playoff contention and took the coveted golden horseshoe north for the winter. It will have been nearly a year to the day when the Aggies and Mustangs meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at Aggie Stadium and there’s been no love lost between the two schools since.
“Davis is kind of the old-school, hard-nosed power team trying to run down your throat,” senior linebacker Burton De Koning said. “When we think of Davis, we obviously don’t think too highly of them in any regards.”
Right now, with where we are in our season, it’s big. It’s what we have left to play for.
Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh on the Mustangs’ game against the Aggies
Coming off a 36-14 victory over Sacramento State at home last week, Cal Poly brings a 3-6 overall record into its sixth and final road game of the season. Though the Mustangs are 1-4 on the road, they’ve put together some of their best performances away from Alex G. Spanos Stadium, notably losses at Arizona State and Eastern Washington.
UC Davis enters the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe with the same record it did a year ago at 1-8 overall and 1-5 in the Big Sky Conference. The Aggies’ lone victory came against a Northern Arizona team that has defeated a talented Montana State squad and routed Eastern Washington, who was ranked No. 4 at the time, by 22 points on the road last weekend.
“Right now, with where we are in our season, it’s big,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “It’s what we have left to play for. So I’m excited to have the opportunity to be a part of it again and I’m also excited to see if we’re going to respond to how well we played last week and how well we can finish the season.”
Cal Poly has maintained its status as the No. 1-ranked rushing team in the country by averaging nearly 405 yards per game, more than 55 yards ahead of second-place Citadel. Brown has been dynamic in leading the offense and despite totaling significantly less carries this season, he remains on pace to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year.
Brown has rushed for a team-high 861 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Sophomore fullback Joe Protheroe has not lost a single yard in rushing for more than 700 yards and six touchdowns. Junior slotback Kori Garcia has been as resilient as anyone of the roster, playing through a series of injures to contribute 671 yards and four scores.
“Do not, at any time, try to do something outside of your job. That’s where you fall into a lot of trouble,” UC Davis coach Ron Gould said of defending the Mustangs’ triple-option offense. “… It’s going to take a tremendous amount of effort on our part offensively, defensively and special teams to have a chance to win the game on Saturday.”
Redshirt freshman C.J. Spencer made his first career start at quarterback for the Aggies last week in a 23-3 loss to Weber State. Replacing regular starter Ben Scott, Spencer completed 15 of 28 passes for 146 yards and was intercepted once in a decent first outing by the Sacramento native.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Spencer was recruited by Cal Poly during his standout prep career at Inderkum High and Walsh said the Mustangs are aware of his gifted athleticism. Scott made his presence known in San Luis Obispo last year as well, throwing for 298 yards and three touchdowns in arguably his best performance of the season.
“I’m sure they’re thinking they can do the same thing that they did to us last year,” Walsh said, “regardless of who plays quarterback.”
Cal Poly Football
Who: Cal Poly vs. UC Davis
What: Big Sky Conference football, Week 10
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Aggies Stadium