In the age of statistic-driven analysis, Idaho State should have won this game. The Bengals (6-4, 5-2 Big Sky) were ranked No. 3 in total yards in the Football Championship Subdivision and were top ten in the FCS for first downs, scoring offense and passing offense.
But statistics did not matter come game time as the Mustangs (4-6, 3-4 Big Sky) upset Nos. 24/25 Idaho State by a final score of 37-14 in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Senior fullback Joe Protheroe entered Cal Poly Football’s history books Saturday evening by achieving the all-time record for most yards rushed in a single season with 1,627 yards and a game left to play.
After the Mustangs won the coin toss and deferred, Bengals quarterback Tanner Gueller led a drive to the Mustangs 27-yard line, before three key stops from senior defensive back Dominic Frasch saw the Bengals turn over the ball on downs.
The Mustangs got on the board first with 3:50 left in the first quarter when senior kicker Alex Vega kicked a 31-yard field goal to put Cal Poly up 3-0 after a 76-yard drive in 12 plays. Senior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins made a 28-yard pass to junior wide receiver JJ Koski to help put the Mustangs in field goal position.
While the Bengals made another deep drive into the Mustangs half near the end of the first quarter, Frasch stopped the Bengals’ hopes of scoring with his third interception of the season to return possession to the Mustangs. Frasch almost did not play against Idaho State, and was listed as not playing as late as Thursday.
“Reality just kind of set in,” Frasch said about deciding to play against Idaho State. “I’m a senior, so two games left … I just wanted to play the last two games of my career and kind of just thinking about it, it all came into fruition.”
“I’m a senior, so two games left … I just wanted to play the last two games of my career and kind of just thinking about it, it all came into fruition”
In the second quarter, Cal Poly doubled their lead thanks to a 23-yard kick from Vega to put the Mustangs up 6-0, with assistance from Protheroe, who added 38 yards on one carry during the field goal drive.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Idaho State was able to take a 7-6 lead with 7:59 in the second quarter. Bengals wide receiver Michael Dean caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Gueller, with the the point-after attempt converted as well.
However, Protheroe helped the Mustangs make up for lost ground with a 48-yard run to bring the Mustangs to the Idaho State 15-yard line, before scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run to give Cal Poly a 13-7 lead with 45 seconds left in the half.
Gueller attempted another long pass to try and put the Bengals deep into the Mustangs’ half of the field, but sophomore defensive back Kevin Howell intercepted the pass, sending the Mustangs into the locker room with the lead at the half.
The second half began with the Mustangs receiving the ball and taking immediate advantage of their possession. Jenkins launched a 36-yard pass into the San Luis Obispo night to Koski, who brought it in for a touchdown to extend the Mustangs’ lead to 13 points.
However, Bengals running back Ty Flanagan wrangled the game back within a single possession thanks to a 28-yard run to the endzone to make the score 20-14 with less than nine minutes to play in the third quarter.
While the Mustangs failed to convert the ball on 4th-and-three and turned over the ball on downs, senior linebacker Anders Turner recovered a fumble for 40 yards and a touchdown to put Cal Poly up 27-14 in the fourth quarter. Turner’s touchdown was the first fumble recovery for a touchdown since 2009 and the first defensive touchdown since 2016.
Koski hammered the nail in the Bengals’ coffin with a 28-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to all but secure victory for the Mustangs. Vega converted his third field goal of the game to decorate the Mustangs’ lead, and achieved a career high in field goals made as well.
The Mustangs defense forced the Bengals offense to commit four turnovers, with two fumbles and two interceptions. The win against Idaho State was the Mustangs’ first win over a ranked opponent since 2016, when the team defeated then-No. 6 Montana 42-41.
“We played so well that we took [Idaho State’s] game out,” head coach Tim Walsh said about the team’s victory. “They didn’t look like the team that they looked like on film all year long, and that’s a great credit to our players.”
In addition to breaking the single-season rushing record, Protheroe also rushed for a career-high of 260 yards, breaking his previous record of 228 yards against Brown earlier this season. Despite his record-breaking night, Protheroe was quick to attribute his records to his teammates that made it possible and spoke highly of the bond he’s forged with them.
“It’s really no friends, just all family,” Protheroe said about his record-breaking night. “We take a lot of pride in [the Memorial Rock] over there, and play for the guys that came before us and we play for the guys to the right and left of us.”
The Mustangs final game of the season is on Saturday, Nov. 17 against Southern Utah at 4:05 p.m. in Spanos Stadium. For Protheroe, the gravitas of his last game as a Mustang hasn’t fully settled in.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Protheroe said. “I’m probably going to be crying and stuff afterwards but … to be able to strap up and get a win, it’s gonna be big time.”