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Cal Poly, UC Davis Resume Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Saturday

WEEKLY NOTES: CAL POLY | UC DAVIS | BIG SKY
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SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. -- Cal Poly (3-5, 2-2 Big Sky), which snapped a three-game Battle for the Golden Horseshoe losing streak a year ago in Alex G. Spanos Stadium, visits UC Davis (3-6, 3-2 Big Sky) for the 39th renewal of the rivalry Saturday afternoon in Aggie Stadium (10,849).

Kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. PDT and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio (1280 am) with Tom Barket providing the play-by-play and Eric Burdick serving as an analyst. Links for video and audio streams as well as live stats are available at www.GoPoly.com.

The Mustangs, who fell out of the top 25 in both the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll and The Sports Network media poll after losing to Yale 24-10 four weeks ago, let a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter slip away as Marcus Alford returned a kickoff 96 yards to lift Northern Arizona to a 17-13 victory last Saturday in Alex G. Spanos Stadium. UC Davis had won three of four games before falling Saturday at Montana State, 34-17.

A year ago, Cal Poly finished 9-3 overall, falling 18-16 in the second round of the FCS playoffs to Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas. In earning their third FCS playoff berth, the Mustangs finished with a winning record for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons.

UC Davis, under first-year head coach Ron Gould, dropped its first four games of the season to South Dakota, Nevada, Northern Arizona and Portland State by a combined score of 108-34 before opening Big Sky play with wins over Idaho State and Southern Utah. The Aggies fell 42-7 against Montana and beat Northern Colorado prior to last week's loss at Montana State despite Gabe Manzanares' 179 rushing yards, one touchdown, four catches and 212 all-purpose yards. Randy Wright completed 23 of 33 passes for 159 yards and a score while Tom Hemmingsen caught 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.

Cal Poly football, presented by French Hospital Medical Center, opened Fall Camp with 58 returning lettermen, including 17 players who started at least four games in 2012. Topping the list of returnees were a pair of second-team All-Big Sky honorees -- linebacker Johnny Millard and defensive tackle Sullivan Grosz -- and eight others who earned All-Big Sky honorable mention praise.

Junior Willie Tucker returned at wide receiver after leading the team with 28 catches a year ago while three of the five starters on the offensive front -- Giovanni Sani, Mike Freeman and Lefi Letuligasenoa -- returned as well. Tucker is lost for the season due to a knee injury. Also returning were junior Kristaan Ivory, the No. 2 rusher a year ago with 728 yards and eight touchdowns, and fellow slotback Cole Stanford with 241 rushing yards and 17 catches for 486 yards and four scores.

On defense, all four starting defensive linemen of a year ago -- ends Andrew Alcaraz and Jake Irwin plus tackles Grosz and Chris Lawrence -- returned. At linebacker, junior Nick Dzubnar moved from the outside to replace Kenneth Jackson in the middle (Mike) while Millard shifted from Will to Sam. Junior Cameron Ontko took over at Will. Eight of the nine defensive backs who played six or more games last fall returned along with senior three-year letterman Bijon Samoodi, who sat out the 2012 season with a hip injury.

Bobby Zalud, who handled all kicking duties (55-for-55 PATs, 12-for-16 field goals, 40.6 punting average), and return specialist Chris Nicholls (24.0 average per kickoff return, 8.5 average per punt return) returned as well.

Eight games into the current season, Ivory is ranked No. 3 in the Big Sky and No. 27 in the FCS with his average of 101 rushing yards per contest. The junior is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, scored three touchdowns against San Diego on runs of 81, 2 and 61 yards en route to a 185-yard performance, accumulated 184 yards and one score against Portland State, made a career-high eight catches against Yale and scored three times, two via rushing and one on a pass, against Weber State, rushing for 100 yards. He added 121 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season and fifth of the year, in the loss at Montana two weeks ago. Ivory also leads the Mustangs in receiving with 23 catches for 123 yards and a score.

Cal Poly's three linebackers top the chart in tackles. Middle linebacker Nick Dzubnar has a team-leading 79 tackles, 12 against Montana, while outside linebacker Cameron Ontko has made 70 tackles, 14 against the Grizzlies. Outside linebacker/rush end Johnny Millard has 67 stops, including a career-high 13 in the loss to Yale.

Sophomore quarterback Dano Graves, who earned his first collegiate start three weeks ago against Weber State and responded with 116 yards on the ground and 169 yards passing, completing 13 of 16 passes, three for touchdowns, was 13-for-18 against Montana for 95 yards and rushed for 91 yards on 14 trips. Last week against Northern Arizona, the Folsom High School graduate and transfer from Air Force connected on 11 of 22 passes for 115 yards and rushed for 86 yards. Graves is the third Mustang to start at quarterback this fall, following Vince Moraga (two starts, knee injury) and Chris Brown (three starts, hip injury).

Cal Poly had difficulty putting together two solid halves of football in the first half of the current season. In their first three road games, the Mustangs were outscored 82-17 in the first half and outgained 926-375 in total offense. In the second half, Cal Poly outscored its first three road foes 63-26 and compiled a 926-515 advantage in total yards.

Cal Poly and Northern Arizona battled to a 10-10 standoff in the first half and, after a scoreless third quarter, the Mustangs took a 13-10 lead on Bobby Zalud's 22-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. Alford answered with his 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Cal Poly got the ball back four times, but punted twice and lost the ball on downs and an interception as the Lumberjacks held on for the win. The Mustangs had advantages of 19-16 in first downs, 352 to 277 in total offense and a two-minute edge in time of possession.

After averaging 29 points and 457 yards in its first six games, Cal Poly has struggled offensively, scoring just 27 points and accumulating 755 total yards the last two weeks. The Mustangs are without Tucker, Moraga and Letuligasenoa for the rest of the season, Ivory missed most of the Northern Arizona game with an ankle injury and Cole Stanford has missed playing time with injuries as well.

Special teams play has resulted in three Cal Poly field goals and a pair of Mustang punts blocked by the opposition, two Mustang punts and one kickoff returned for touchdowns and two punts hitting Cal Poly players and recovered by their foes.

Coached by Gould (first season, 3-6, Oregon '88), UC Davis returned 45 lettermen, including 18 offensive and defensive starters, off last year's team which went 4-7 overall and finished tied for eighth in the Big Sky at 3-5. The Aggies elevated their football program to the Football Championship Subdivision in 2007 and are still seeking their first FCS playoff berth. They earned NCAA Division II playoff berths 18 times, including the 1982 championship final.

For the season, Manzanares has rushed for 890 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Wright has completed 102 of 158 passes (65 percent) for 1,049 yards and eight scores. His favorite targets are Hemmingsen with 44 catches, Corey Galindo with 27 and T.J. King with 20. Free safety Charles Boyett leads the Aggies defensively with 61 tackles and an interception. Strong safety Aaryn Jones has 54 tackles and a pair of thefts while defensive end Nick King has recorded six sacks.

UC Davis is averaging 330 yards in total offense per game -- 147 on the ground and 183 through the air -- and scoring 16 points a contest while giving up 387 yards (190 rushing, 197 passing) and 24 points per game.

Gould, a 1988 graduate of Oregon, was an assistant coach at Cal for 16 seasons before replacing Bob Biggs as UC Davis head coach last December. A defensive back for the Ducks, Gould was a graduate assistant at Oregon (1990-91) and coached the defensive backs at Portland State (in 1992 under Tim Walsh) and Boise State (1993-96) before moving on to Cal.

Cal Poly, which won three straight games against UC Davis from 2006-08 to even the series at 16-16-2, lost three in a row to the Aggies the following three years before snapping the losing streak with a 28-20 victory last fall in San Luis Obispo. Deonte Williams rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns while Akaninyene Umoh ran 51 yards for another score as the Mustangs overcame an early 10-0 deficit for the win.

UC Davis leads the series 19-17-2. The Aggies won 24-17 in Davis two years ago. Walsh is 6-8 against UC Davis -- 1-3 while coaching at Sonoma State, 4-2 while at Portland State and 1-3 at Cal Poly -- while Gould is 0-0 against Cal Poly. Against the Aggies, the Mustangs are 11-8 at home and 6-11-2 in Davis.

Next week Cal Poly plays the first of two consecutive home games, hosting Sacramento State on Nov. 9 at 6:05 p.m. The Mustangs also entertain 2010 FCS champion Eastern Washington on Nov. 16 at 12:40 p.m. (ROOT Sports) before closing out the 2013 regular season at Northern Colorado on Nov. 23.