SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (5-5, 3-1 Great West), which will share the 2011 Great West Conference title with the winner of Saturday's North Dakota vs. South Dakota football game, closes out the 2011 campaign with a non-conference game at South Alabama (6-3, NCAA FCS Independent) on Saturday in Ladd-Peebles Stadium (38,888), Mobile, Ala.
Kickoff is set for 2:05 p.m. PST and the contest will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Tom Barket providing the play-by-play and Eric Burdick doing color commentary. The game also will be available on ESPN3.com. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats will be available on www.GoPoly.com.
Cal Poly, which clinched a share of its fourth Great West title Oct. 29 with a 27-24 win over South Dakota, is closing out the campaign with a pair of non-conference games, including a 53-51 triple-overtime loss to defending FCS national champion Eastern Washington last Saturday inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium. The Mustangs won each of their first three conference games by a total of 11 points and had to come from behind for all three victories, but couldn't overcome a 21-3 halftime deficit in a 24-17 loss at UC Davis two weeks ago.
Cal Poly rallied from a 14-3 second-quarter deficit to beat defending Great West champion and No. 22 Southern Utah 31-27 on Oct. 15, climbed back from an early 6-0 deficit to beat No. 20 North Dakota 23-19 on Oct. 22 and erased a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat No. 17 South Dakota three weeks ago. The Mustangs won three home games in a row despite trailing at intermission but couldn't perform that magic again in the loss to Eastern Washington, battling back from a 28-14 intermission deficit to take a 35-28 lead with five minutes remaining but eventually falling to the Eagles in extra time.
Cal Poly has scored first only twice in 10 games this season. The Mustangs have trailed at halftime eight times in 10 games this season and rallied to win three of those games, all at home. Cal Poly won both games in which it led at halftime this year (South Dakota State and North Dakota).
Despite breaking three school records, including a pair of 40-year-old marks, and an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision standard, the Mustangs dropped to 5-5 on the year with the loss to Eastern Washington. Cal Poly rushed a school-record 95 times for 405 yards against the Eagles, breaking the NCAA mark of 90 carries established by VMI against East Tennessee State in 1990. The Mustangs called 107 total plays (12 passing) in the game, breaking another school record. The other all-time school record broken Saturday was accomplished by junior quarterback Andre Broadous. His three touchdown runs, all one-yard sneaks, elevated his season total of rushing scores to 17, eclipsing the mark of 16 set by James Noble in 2005.
Cal Poly football, presented by French Hospital Medical Center, has tackled another ambitious schedule under third-year head coach Tim Walsh, taking on a pair of FBS teams, five FCS squads that have been in the national polls and another team that was undefeated the last two seasons. Both San Diego State and Northern Illinois won bowl games in 2010, Montana has a pair of FCS national titles to its credit and Eastern Washington claimed the FCS crown last fall. South Alabama did not lose a football game in the program's first two seasons of existence. Cal Poly's 11 foes in 2011 posted a combined 76-53 win-loss record in 2010.
"We have as tough a schedule as you could want at this level," said Walsh. "Every game, we have to play our best."
The Mustangs opened the 2011 campaign armed with nearly 50 returning lettermen, including 14 starters, off a team which finished two points shy of a postseason berth, letting a 21-3 halftime lead slip away in a 22-21 loss to rival UC Davis in the final game of 2010.
Bo Levi Mitchell's run for two points in the third overtime proved to be the difference as Eastern Washington defeated Cal Poly. Each team exchanged field goals in the first extra session and traded touchdowns in the second overtime. Then Greg Herd caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to start the third overtime period and Mitchell ran for the two-point PAT and a 53-45 lead. Cal Poly junior quarterback Andre Broadous scored from a yard out on fourth down to close the gap to two points, but his two-point conversion pass was batted away in the end zone by Eagle defensive back Alden Gibbs.
The decision spoiled a brilliant performance by Cal Poly senior fullback Jake Romanelli, who established career highs with 36 rushes for 179 yards and a touchdown on a one-yard run early in the second quarter. For Romanelli, it was his fifth 100-yard game this season and the sixth of his Mustang career. He is now just 34 yards shy of becoming Cal Poly's first 1,000-yard rusher for a season since 2006 when James Noble gained 1,009 yards.
Both teams surpassed the 500-yard mark in total offense. Cal Poly amassed 501 yards, including 405 on the ground, while Eastern Washington accumulated 546 yards, 461 through the air.
South Alabama, coached by Joey Jones (third season, 23-3, Alabama '89), returned 56 lettermen, including 18 starters, off last year's team which went 10-0 as an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Independent. The Jaguars, in their third season of football (7-0 in 2009), are taking the fast track to the Football Bowl Subdivision, becoming eligible for the 2013 season.
South Alabama extended its program-long winning streak to 19 games with wins over West Alabama and Lamar before suffering its first-ever loss at North Carolina State. Other losses this season were to Kent State and Georgia State.
Last Jaguar game was Nov. 3, a 35-3 win over Mississippi Valley State, led by true freshman J.J. Keels with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a non-scoring 45-yard punt return and a 25-yard touchdown run.
For the season, Kendall Houston has rushed for 536 yards and eight touchdowns while Demetre Baker has 491 yards and nine scores. C.J. Bennett has completed 107 of 195 passes (55 percent) for 1,424 yards and six scores. His favorite targets are Brynt Lavender (22 catches, 305 yards), Corey Waldon (21-277) and Jereme Jones (20-198). Scott Garber averages 42.0 yards per punt. Linebacker Jake Johnson has 69 tackles (6.5 for lost yardage) while strong safety Charles Harris has 67.
The Jaguars average 26.0 points and 332 yards in total offense (165 rushing, 167 passing) and are giving up 19.6 points and 302 yards (133 rushing, 169 passing) a contest.
Cal Poly and South Alabama will meet for the first time in football on Saturday.
One year shy of their first venture to the Big Sky Conference, the Mustangs welcomed back six starters on offense and eight on defense, plus several other players who started a few games or accumulated a lot of playing time as backups. Among those were Broadous, who started four games at quarterback last fall, all on the road, and numerous defensive players who rotated in and out of the lineup with the starters.
The Mustangs also are led by Mark Rodgers (882 yards and eight TDs rushing; 20 catches and three more TDs in 2010), Romanelli (459 yards, eight TDs in 2010) and a veteran offensive line which includes seniors Scott Winnewisser, Art Munoz and Maurice McClure.
Top returnees on defense are Buck Buchanan Award candidate Asa Jackson (55 tackles, two interceptions in 2010) at cornerback, linebackers Johnny Millard (38 tackles, two forced fumbles) and Kennith Jackson (67 tackles) and linemen Erich Klemme (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks), Kyle Murphy 23 tackles, six hurries) and Gavin Cooper (39 tackles, six sacks, six hurries).
Cal Poly has captured four Great West Conference titles in the eight-year history of the league (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011) and earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths in both 2005 and 2008, reaching the quarterfinals in 2005. The Mustangs have won 64 of their last 101 games dating back to the 2002 season finale and have won 22 of their last 47 games on the road and 42 of their last 51 home contests.