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Cal Poly Returns Home to Host Nos. 24/25 Idaho State on Saturday

Cal Poly Returns Home to Host Nos. 24/25 Idaho State on Saturday
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (3-6, 2-4 Big Sky), which wrapped up the road portion of its 2018 football schedule last week at Montana State, plays its final two games of the 2018 season inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075), beginning Saturday afternoon by hosting Nos. 24/25 Idaho State (6-3, 5-1 Big Sky).
The Homecoming kickoff is set for 4:05 p.m. PST and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN Radio 1280 AM and 101.7 FM with Chris Sylvester (play-by-play) and Vernon (Veejay) Huskey (analyst). Pregame show starts at 3:30 p.m. The game also will be streamed on Pluto TV (Channel 244). Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available at the top of the page as well as on the football schedule page at
After capturing its fourth FCS playoff berth in 2016 and finishing 7-5 overall and tied for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference, Cal Poly slipped to 1-10 and 12th place in 2017. As many as eight starters missed games due to injuries, including quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and fullback Joe Protheroe. Four of the six team captains suffered season-ending injuries.
Jenkins, Protheroe, offensive linemen Harry Whitson, Zach Shallcross and Sam Ogee and defensive backs Dominic Frasch, Aaron Johnson and Carter Nichols all return this fall, bolstering hopes for a turnaround from the team that tied the school record for losses in a season.
The Mustangs opened the 2018 campaign with a 49-3 setback at No. 1-ranked and six-time NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision champion North Dakota State and fell 24-17 to No. 6 Weber State in a non-conference matchup of Big Sky Conference rivals before rushing for 420 yards, paced by senior Joe Protheroe's career highs of 43 carries, 228 yards and three touchdowns, in a 44-15 victory over Brown. Sophomore slot back Broc Mortensen returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, just the second touchdown by kickoff return for the Mustangs in 15-plus seasons. 
No. 4 Eastern Washington compiled a 657-399 advantage in total offense in a 70-17 triumph over Cal Poly at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., on Sept. 22, opening Big Sky play. In front of a national television audience (Eleven Sports), Cal Poly produced a 32-18 advantage in first downs, 512-468 in total offense and over 17 minutes in time of possession, but lost two fumbles and were stopped three times on fourth-and-short plays in a 48-28 setback against No. 15 Montana. Protheroe rushed for 139 yards and surpassed the 3,000-yard mark in career rushing, scoring three touchdowns, while sophomore slot back Drew Hernandez added 135 yards on just 14 trips. Protheroe added 128 more yards to his career rushing total, scoring once, Hernandez gained 113 yards on the ground and J.J. Koski returned a punt 70 yards for a score and ran 68 yards on a reverse for another TD in the Mustangs' 41-27 win over Sacramento State.
Three weeks ago, No. 10 UC Davis scored 52 unanswered points to overcome an early 10-0 Cal Poly lead and posted a 52-10 triumph. Protheroe rushed for 147 yards on 33 carries and moved up to No. 4 in career rushing, surpassing Louis Jackson. On Oct. 27 at Northern Arizona, Protheroe earned his third career 200-yard game with 217 yards on 39 carries, scoring once, and quarterback Khaleel Jenkins threw his first two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in a 38-28 victory. With 11 tackles, linebacker Matt Shotwell earned his fourth double-digit game in tackles this season while cornerback Dominic Frasch intercepted a Lumberjack pass at the one-yard line with 54 seconds remaining to clinch the victory for the Mustangs.
In Bozeman, Mont., last week, Montana State jumped to a 14-0 lead in the opening nine minutes and never looked back in a 49-42 triumph. The Mustangs scored four of the game's final five touchdowns after falling behind 42-14, but could get no closer than the final margin. Protheroe produced his second straight 200-yard game and seventh consecutive 100-yard output, rushing for 215 yards and two scores while Jenkins ran for three scores and threw for another, rushing for 138 yards, his third career game over the century mark.
Protheroe (pictured at left) has a school-record 21 career 100-yard games, four over the 200-yard mark and a Big Sky- and FCS-leading 1,367 yards this season, joining five other Mustangs with a pair of 1,000-yard campaigns. Protheroe has rushed for 3,828 career yards and needs six yards to catch No. 2 Antonio Warren and 378 yards to surpass the school record of 4,205 yards set by Craig Young from 1996-99. He also needs 211 yards for the single-season mark of 1,578 set by James Noble in 2005. 
Protheroe, who two weeks ago joined Noble, Young, Warren, Louis Jackson and Chris Brown as Mustangs with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons rushing, currently is No. 5 in single-season rushing and No. 3 in career rushing.

Bengal Notes

Under second-year head coach Rob Phenicie (10-10, Memphis '89), Idaho State opened the season with four wins in five games, losing only to Cal 45-23 on Sept. 15. After losses to UC Davis and Liberty dropped the Bengals out of the polls, Idaho State rebounded with victories over Montana State and Portland State to jump back into the Big Sky title race and into the Top 25 (24th by media, 25th by coaches). Idaho State, Eastern Washington and Weber State all sport 5-1 Big Sky marks, one game behind unbeaten UC Davis (6-0). Cal Poly is tied for ninth place with Northern Arizona at 2-4.
At Portland State last weekend, the Bengals never trailed, but the game was tied at 17-17, 24-24, 31-31 and 38-38 before Campbell Sheidow kicked a 27-yard field goal late in the third quarter and Ty Flanagan ran eight yards for a touchdown early in the fourth and a 48-38 lead. Idaho State then held on for the win. Both teams produced over 500 yards in total offense. Tanner Gueller threw four touchdown passes, completing 15 of 30 attempts for 344 yards. The Bengals, 4-7 in Phenicie's first year at the helm, have clinched their second winning season in five years and only the fourth since 2002.
The Bengals with their high-powered offense are among the leaders in the FCS in total offense (No. 3, 524 yards per game), first downs (No. 6, 225), scoring offense (No. 8, 40.1 points per game), passing offense (No. 9, 299.1 yards per game) and turnover margin (No. 15, plus-seven).
A total of 16 Bengal starters return — eight on offense and eight on defense — led by Gueller, who passed for 2,754 yards and 22 touchdowns last season and so far in 2018 has completed 154 of 276 passes for 2,634 yards and 24 scores, along with running back James Madison, linebacker Joe Martin and wide receiver Mitch Gueller, younger brother of the quarterback. Madison has rushed for 879 yards and 11 touchdowns, Mitch Gueller is the leading receiver with 49 catches for 1,091 yards and eight scores, and Martin has notched 31 tackles.
Idaho State averages 524 yards and 40 points per game, rushing for 225 yards and passing for 299 yards each contest. The Bengals have allowed 460 yards and 33 points a game, including 190 on the ground and 270 through the air. The Bengals have 11 interceptions and 17 sacks to their credit this year.
The Bengals captured the FCS national title in 1981 and have claimed three Big Sky championships (1963, 1981 and 2002). This fall, Idaho State is seeking its first FCS playoff berth since 1983.

Mustang Notes

Protheroe headlines another strong group of Mustang ball carriers in Cal Poly's Spread Triple Option. Granted a medical redshirt after playing less than six quarters a year ago, Protheroe entered his final collegiate campaign No. 5 on the Mustangs' career rushing chart with 2,461 yards. In becoming Cal Poly's 20th 1,000-yard rusher in 2016, Protheroe amassed 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. He rushed for 779 yards as a sophomore in 2015 and, with 139 yards on a career-high 39 carries against Colgate in the 2017 opener, entered the 2018 season with 14 career 100-yard games. His 228-yard performance on 43 carries against Brown earlier this year are career highs and he added 176 yards at Eastern Washington, 139 against Montana, 128 at Sacramento State, 147 versus UC Davis, 217 at Northern Arizona and 215 at Montana State, his 21st career contest past the century mark. He surpassed the 3,000-yard mark for his career in the Montana game Sept. 29.
Jenkins passed for 597 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards and four more scores in five starts in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury in late September. He passed for 238 yards and four touchdowns against Northern Iowa, the most passing yards by a Mustang quarterback in a single game since Tony Smith threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns against South Dakota in 2009.
Joining Protheroe among the corps of ball carriers this fall were sophomores Broc Mortensen (206 yards as a true freshman in 2017) and Chuby Dunu (215 yards), junior Trey Nahhas, senior Malcolm Davis (99 yards) and redshirt freshman Duy Tran-Sampson. Mortensen, however, is out for the season due to a foot injury suffered in the Brown game.
The Mustangs' wide receiving corps is led by juniors J.J. Koski (team-leading 28 catches in 2017) and Jake Smeltzer (six) along with sophomore Ryan McNab (two). Koski made seven catches in the loss to Weber State, the most by a Mustang in five years.
Whitson, who played at left guard during his first three seasons as a Mustang, moved to center to replace Joey Kuperman this fall. Whitson is one of five offensive linemen who started at least four games a year ago. The others are tackles Ogee (six starts) and Shallcross (eight starts) and guards Tyler Whisenhunt 11 starts) and Paul Trujillo-Langdon (four starts).
On defense, the entire front three and half of the four linebackers needed to be replaced. Seniors Anders Turner (32 tackles in 2016) and Jayson Lee (60 tackles in 2017) anchor the linebacking corps. The secondary is the most experienced group, led by six veterans, the return of Nichols from injury and the addition of transfer Kevin Howell from Nevada.
Casey Sublette, who handled all kicking duties in 2017, returns, backed up by Alex Vega. Both are seniors. Vega kicked a 49-yard field goal with four seconds remaining in a 20-19 win over Montana in the 2015 opener while Sublette connected on a career-long 50-yarder for Cal Poly's only points against North Dakota State on Sept. 1.
Coached by Tim Walsh (54-58, UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly's football program is celebrating a trio of milestones this fall. The Mustangs are playing their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level. In addition, Walsh is in his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
Cal Poly was No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (309.1) in 2013, duplicated the feat in 2014 by averaging 351.8 yards on the ground, broke school and Big Sky records by averaging 387.3 rushing yards per game in 2015 and topped all 121 FCS teams during the regular season again in 2016 with a 343.5-yard average. The four-year run atop the FCS in team rushing ended last fall as the Mustangs averaged just 231.7 yards per contest on the ground.
This week, the Mustangs are No. 1 in time of possession (34:56), No. 5 in rushing offense (328.7) and No. 5 in third-down conversion (48.8 percent) and are one of the fewest penalized teams in the FCS.

The Series

Cal Poly enjoys a 13-8 advantage in its series against Idaho State dating back to 1937. The two teams are meeting for just the fifth time in the last 10 years. Two years ago at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, the Mustangs earned a 58-26 victory as Kori Garcia rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns and senior quarterback Chris Brown ran for two scores and passed for two more. Cal Poly rushed for 499 yards and compiled 605 yards in total offense. Last season in Pocatello, Idaho State outscored the Mustangs 21-3 over the final 18 minutes for a 38-34 victory in Holt Arena. The loss spoiled a brilliant rushing performance by Jenkins, who rushed for 202 yards on 25 carries, breaking the school record for rushing yards in a single game by a quarterback. 
Tim Walsh is 9-8 against Idaho State (2-2 as head coach at Cal Poly) while Phenicie is 1-0 against Cal Poly. The Mustangs are 8-3 at home against the Bengals and 5-5 in Pocatello.
Phenicie is in his fourth year with the Idaho State football program and second as the head coach. He spent five years at UNLV, two as the offensive coordinator, three as the quarterbacks coach and two as the tight ends coach, worked as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Montana from 2003-09 and was the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Wyoming. Phenicie coached the quarterbacks and wide receivers at CSUN from 1997-98 and at L.A. Valley College from 1992-96.

Final Thoughts

Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked to finish 10th (coaches) and 11th (media) in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the 2018 Big Sky crown. Southern Utah and Weber State shared the title in 2017 with 7-1 marks.
The Big Sky loses North Dakota in its lineup this fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule for two more years. Idaho returns to the Big Sky this fall after an 18-year run in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The Mustangs claimed four Great West Conference titles in the eight-year history of the league (2004, 2005, 2008, 2011) before moving to the Big Sky in 2012 and have earned NCAA Division I FCS playoff berths in 2005, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
The Mustangs have won 62 of their last 87 home contests (71 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 102 of its last 181 games (55 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 22 of its last 52 and 41 of 90 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years. The Mustangs' win at Sacramento State on Oct. 6 snapped a nine-game road losing streak.
Cal Poly closes out the 2018 season by hosting Southern Utah on Senior Day, Saturday, Nov. 17.