Faceless except for Davis.
That’s been the Cal Poly football team’s motto during the 2015 season, referring to the one opponent the Mustangs circled on their proverbial calendar when the team opened training camp in August.
Motivated by last year’s 48-35 loss to UC Davis in San Luis Obispo — a game that effectively knocked Cal Poly out of the FCS playoff discussion — the Mustangs made a point to remember how they felt losing to their biggest rival last November.
“I think that we kind of overlooked them,” senior linebacker Burton De Koning said. “We were kind of the team looking to go to the playoffs, and I think our mind was already on that.”
That won’t be the case at 2 p.m. Saturday when the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe kicks off at Aggie Stadium. The Mustangs are 3-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big Sky Conference, having played one of the toughest schedules in the country this season.
Bragging rights in California and a potential three-game winning streak to close out the year is what Cal Poly has left to play for. Records seem to go out the window during a rivalry week, and that was certainly the sentiment among the Mustangs throughout a spirited week of practice.
“They kind of embarrassed us on the field,” senior wide receiver Jordan Hines said. “They bullied us around. “Just not a good feeling when I think about that game, so I’m definitely going to come out looking for some payback this year.”
The Aggies (1-8, 1-5 Big Sky) have won four of the past six matchups with Cal Poly and will recognize the team’s 15 seniors during their final home game this season.
UC Davis head coach Ron Gould said the importance of the rivalry goes beyond the scoreboard and overlaps with competitive recruiting and academics between the two schools. The horseshoe-shaped trophy itself represents the agricultural influence at both universities.
Gould, who coached under Cal Poly’s Tim Walsh at Portland State more than 20 years ago, vividly remembers the Mustangs coming to Aggie Stadium in 2013 and handing UC Davis a 34-16 defeat.
“We have a lot to play for,” Gould said. “… We understand that when you play a rivalry game, the things that you remember you take with you everywhere you go. So you’re not too far removed from them.”
When the two teams played last year, the Aggies scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter to build a comfortable lead going into halftime.
Behind career-best days from then-senior running back Gabe Manzanares (230 yards, three touchdowns) and quarterback Ben Scott (298 yards, three touchdowns), the Aggies tallied more than 560 yards of offense and converted on all eight trips to the red zone.
“Physically they whooped us last year,” Walsh said, “and I give them a lot of credit for it.”