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Cal Poly to Host North Dakota for Big Sky Game on Blackout Saturday

Cal Poly to Host North Dakota for Big Sky Game on Blackout Saturday
 
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Cal Poly (2-4, 1-2 Big Sky), which put together a 21-point rally against Montana State two weeks ago and 24 unanswered points versus UC Davis last week, only to lose both contests, returns home for three of its next four Big Sky Conference games, beginning with North Dakota on Saturday inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium (cap.: 11,075).
 
Kickoff is set for 5:05 p.m. PDT 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 4:30 p.m. The game also will be streamed on Pluto TV Channel 544 and WatchBigSky.com. Links for audio and video streams as well as live stats are available on the football schedule page at www.GoPoly.com.
 
Cal Poly racked up 607 yards of total offense in a season-opening 52-34 win over San Diego, led by redshirt freshman Jalen Hamler and sophomore fullback Duy Tran-Sampson. In his first game in a Mustang uniform, Hamler passed for 221 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 96 yards and two more scores en route to ROOT SPORTS Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week honors. Tran-Sampson, who had just one carry for four yards as a redshirt freshman behind record-breaker Joe Protheroe a year ago, sprinted 87 yards on his first carry of 2019  for a touchdown and finished with 172 yards and two scores, averaging 11.5 yards per carry.
 
Opening a three-game September road trip in Ogden, Utah, on Sept. 7, the Mustangs were held to 164 rushing yards and had the ball for just 24 minutes, 45 seconds in a 41-24 setback versus Weber State. Playing its second game ever against a Pac-12 school four weeks ago, Cal Poly fell 45-7 at Oregon State. Tran-Sampson rushed for 137 yards on 29 carries and Hamler hit redshirt freshman wide receiver Xavier Moore with an eight-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, tying the game at 7-7. The Beavers scored 38 unanswered points to win going away.
 
In a Big Sky-opening 24-21 win at Southern Utah on Sept. 28, Hamler ran for two scores, Jake Jeffrey added another scoring run and Colton Theaker connected on a 36-yard field goal. The Thunderbirds had a chance to send the game into overtime, but a 36-yard field goal attempt with 2:10 to play hit the left upright and Cal Poly was able to run out the clock. Montana State let a 21-point lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but Travis Jonsen ran nine yards in overtime as the Bobcats beat the Mustangs 34-28. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for nearly 39 minutes, including a 94-yard, 20-play drive that lasted 11 minutes, 40 seconds in the first quarter.
 
Last week, UC Davis scored the first 34 points of the game and Cal Poly answered with 24 points of its own and drove to the Aggie 16-yard line on its next possession before UC Davis turned the Mustangs away with two scores in the final 11 minutes. Cal Poly had possession of the ball for over 33 minutes, but lost the turnover battle 3-0, punted eight times, did not record any sacks and was penalized a season-high 12 times for 102 yards in the annual Battle for the Golden Horseshoe.
 
North Dakota, a former Big Sky member and currently an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision independent on its way to the Missouri Valley Football Conference next year, allowed 34 unanswered points as Idaho State rallied from an early 7-0 deficit for a 55-20 triumph last week in Pocatello, Idaho. The Bengals accumulated 607 yards of total offense. Fighting Hawks quarterback Nate Ketteringham completed 33 of 56 passes for 360 yards and two scores but was intercepted twice and North Dakota was held to 92 rushing yards. Garrett Maag and Brock Boltman each caught seven passes.
 
Receiving votes in early-season polls, North Dakota opened 2019 with a 47-7 win over Drake. The Fighting Hawks then faced four consecutive top-25 teams, defeating No. 24 Sam Houston State and No. 12 UC Davis but falling to No. 1 North Dakota State and No. 21 Eastern Washington. The Fighting Hawks have not yet won or lost two straight games this season.
 
Under sixth-year head coach Bubba Schweigert (33-30, Jamestown '85), North Dakota returned a total of 32 lettermen, including 14 starters — eight on offense and six on defense — off last year's squad which posted a 6-5 mark. The Fighting Hawks are led by senior inside linebacker Donnell Rodgers (team-leading 72 tackles in 2018), Ketteringham (158 of 289 passes, 1,835 yards, 16 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) and wide receiver Noah Wanzek (52 catches, 685 yards, six TDs).
 
This season, Ketteringham has completed 100 of 164 passes for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns in four games and Wanzek (36 catches, 446 yards, two TDs) and Maag (32-342-3) are hi favorite targets. The running attack is paced by James Johannesson, who has rushed for 286 yards and five touchdowns in six contests.
 
North Dakota, which runs a multiple-set offense and 3-4 defense, averages 373 yards and 27 points per game, rushing for 123 yards and passing for 250 yards each contest. The Fighting Hawks have allowed 384 yards and 32 points a game, including 180 yards on the ground and 204 through the air. North Dakota is fourth in the nation in red zone offense (.947), ninth in punt returns defense (2.50), 20th with seven interceptions, 23rd in sacks allowed (8) and 39th in passing offense (250.2 yards per game).
 
Cal Poly and North Dakota are meeting for the eighth time Saturday. The Fighting Hawks have won the last two meetings — 45-21 in 2015 in San Luis Obispo and 31-24 in 2016 at Grand Forks, N.D. North Dakota owns a 4-3 advantage in the series. First meeting between the Mustangs and North Dakota was in the 1972 Camellia Bowl at Hughes Stadium in Sacramento, won by North Dakota 38-21. Tim Walsh is 3-3 against North Dakota while Bubba Schweigert is 2-0 against Cal Poly. The Mustangs are 1-1 against the Fighting Hawks in San Luis Obispo and 2-2 in Grand Forks.
 
North Dakota, which claims among its most famous alumni former L.A. Lakers head coach Phil Jackson and kicker Errol Mann, was NCAA Division II national champion in 2001. The Fighting Hawks earned 13 playoff berths in Division II and one so far in Division I (2016), claimed 24 North Central Conference championships and one each in the Great West (2011) and Big Sky (2016) conferences.
 
Schweigert was defensive coordinator at North Dakota from 1997-2003 and also has served as secondary coach (1990-96) and graduate assistant (1989-90) at North Dakota. He compiled a 22-21 mark as head coach for four seasons at Minnesota Duluth and also was defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois from 2008-13.
 
Cal Poly returned 10 starters on defense and six on offense. Biggest holes to fill were at outside linebacker (three players with five or more starts are gone) and right up the middle on offense — Protheroe, quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and center Harry Whitson, one of four offensive linemen with five or more starts who are gone. Whitson is now an offensive analyst with the Mustangs.
 
Protheroe amassed 1,810 yards on 363 carries last season, raising his career totals to 861 carries and 4,271 yards, all new school records. His 23 career 100-yard games, including five over the 200-yard mark, also are school records, and Protheroe earned seven All-America honors in 2018 after leading the Big Sky and FCS in rushing. Jenkins rushed for 664 yards and passed for 777 more yards, accounting for nine touchdowns in each category. 
 
Top Mustang returnees are wide receiver J.J. Koski, offensive linemen Paul Trujillo-Langdon and Tyler Whisenhunt and the top four tacklers on defense in 2018 — inside linebackers Matt Shotwell (90 tackles) and Nik Navarro (83 tackles) and safeties Kitu Humphrey (67 tackles) and Carter Nichols (59 tackles). Koski led the Mustangs in receiving for the second straight year with 33 catches for 666 yards and four scores in 2018. Trujillo-Langdon moved from right guard to center to replace Whitson and Whisenhunt remained at left tackle after earning second-team All-Big Sky honors a year ago.
 
Drew Hernandez (664 yards, 7.6 yards per carry, nine touchdowns) and J'uan Campbell (195 yards, two scores) headed the list of returning slot backs this fall, but Hernandez missed the first two games due to injury and Campbell likely will redshirt. Replacing Protheroe at fullback are Tran-Sampson, senior Trey Nahhas, redshirt freshman Ryan Rivera and grayshirt Dusty Frampton
 
So far this fall, Tran-Sampson has rushed for 514 yards and three touchdowns while Hamler, who won a three-man battle with sophomore Kyle Reid and junior Jake Jeffrey for the vacant quarterback position, has added 365 yards and six scores while completing 43 of 69 passes (62 percent) for 860 yards and eight touchdowns. Koski has caught 26 passes for 563 yards and four scores, establishing new career highs last week at UC Davis with eight catches for 163 yards.
 
On defense, only two of the top 10 players at the three positions on the defensive front last year are gone. Sophomore Jojo Falo made five starts at defensive tackle, sophomore Pono Faaagi started seven games at nose tackle and sophomore Myles Cecil played all 11 games with seven starts at the defensive end spot. Cecil had 39 tackles, Falo 15 and Faaagi 11 a year ago. Falo suffered an injury on the first play of the San Diego game and is out for the season.
 
Dominic Frasch, the national leader in passes defended a year ago, has moved on, but the secondary has plenty of returning experience. Junior field cornerback Kevin Howell played in nine games in 2018 while senior Sharky Reza (15 tackles, five pass breakups in 2018) tops the field at boundary corner. Senior Carter Nichols (59 tackles, five pass breakups in 2018) and junior Bradley Mickey (10 tackles) are the top two candidates at field safety while senior Kitu Humphrey (67 tackles, nine pass breakups) returns for his final season at boundary safety.
 
Junior linebacker Matt Shotwell leads Cal Poly's defense with 48 tackles while Humphrey has 43.
Coached by Tim Walsh (11th season at Cal Poly (58-62), 29th season overall (174-144), UC Riverside '77), Cal Poly's football program celebrated a trio of milestones last fall. The Mustangs played their 100th season on the gridiron and 25th at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level while Walsh completed his 10th season at the helm of the Cal Poly football program.
 
Cal Poly played eight games against teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at one time or another last year. In addition, Sacramento State earned votes in a preseason poll while Southern Utah earned a share of the Big Sky title in 2017. Despite the difficult schedule, the 14th-toughest in the nation according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today, the Mustangs managed a four-win improvement over 2017.
 
Cal Poly, which captured the 2012 Big Sky title in its first year in the conference, was picked to finish ninth by both the head coaches and the media in the 13-team Big Sky this fall. Eastern Washington was selected to claim the 2019 Big Sky crown, followed by UC Davis and Weber State.
 
The Big Sky lost North Dakota in its lineup last fall, though the Fighting Hawks will continue to play a Big Sky schedule as an independent for one more season before moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. Idaho, once a Pac-8 member in the 1960s, returned to the Big Sky last 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 65 of their last 91 home contests (71 percent) and, overall, Cal Poly has won 106 of its last 189 games (56 percent) going back to the 2002 finale and has won 23 of its last 56 and 42 of 94 on the road while producing 12 winning seasons in the last 18 years.
 
Cal Poly's 1994 football team, the first to play in Division I, will be honored this weekend. Under first-year head coach Andre Patterson, the Mustangs posted a 7-4 mark and went undefeated in the American West Conference, led by quarterback Mike Fisher, running back Antonio Warren and wide receiver Kamil Loud.
 
Next week, Cal Poly hosts Sacramento State on Mustang Family Weekend. Kickoff on Oct. 26 is set for 5:05 p.m.
 
Photo above of Cal Poly cornerback Kameron Dennis courtesy of Wayne Tilcock | AggiePhoto.com