In the Mustangs last game of the 2018 season, the Cal Poly football team defeated Southern Utah by a final score of 38-24 inside Alex G. Spanos stadium.
Led by senior quarterback Khaleel Jenkins and senior fullback Joe Protheroe, Cal Poly overcame a first quarter deficit by scoring five touchdowns on the Thunderbirds – four of which coming off throws deeper than 30 yards. In the victory, Protheroe was successful in setting a new program record for career rushing yards. The performance came only one game after Protheroe broke the school record for most rushing yards in a single-season against Idaho State on Nov. 10.
Southern Utah were able to strike first in the opening minutes of the game with a 28-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Karris Davis. The Mustangs nearly answered with a touchdown of their own after battling their way to Southern Utah’s five-yard line, but were halted without converting on fourth down.
Southern Utah capitalized again with a minute and a half remaining in the first quarter when freshman quarterback Tyler Skidmore completed a 9-yard pass into the hands of senior tight end McCoy Hill.
With the Mustangs down by 14 points in the first quarter, Cal Poly’s senior night seemed to hit the nerves of the players.
“I think it took us a while to regain our focus and regain who we wanted to be,” head coach Tim Walsh said. “It probably took us midway through the second quarter to get where we wanted to be on defense. Most importantly, the players got themselves to calm down, get back into the game and play football.”
Cal Poly quickly bounced back in the second quarter, scoring two touchdowns of their own behind passes from Jenkins. Only one minute into the quarter, Jenkins launched a 46-yard touchdown pass to junior wide-receiver J.J. Koski to put the Mustangs on the scoreboard.
After the Mustangs defense were able to hold the Thunderbirds at two touchdowns, Jenkins completed a 32-yard pass to senior slotback Malcolm Davis to tie the game at 14-14.
However, Cal Poly’s scoring run did not go unanswered, as Southern Utah gained the lead once again with a 14-play drive ending in a 1-yard touchdown rush by junior running back Jay Green Jr.
With two minutes left in the half, rushing drives from Protheroe and sophomore slotback Drew Hernandez set the Mustangs up for their third touchdown of the night— a 56-yard pass to Koski to register his second touchdown against the Thunderbirds.
With the score tied for the second time at 21-21, the Mustangs took full control and refused to fall behind Southern Utah for the remainder of the game.
A 12-play drive from the Mustangs in the third quarter concluded in a 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Quentin Harrison, stretching Cal Poly’s lead over Southern Utah to 28-21.
In the fourth quarter, both teams defenses were determined to keep the opposition from the end zone. However, Cal Poly kicker Alex Vega and Thunderbird kicker Manny Berz each registered a field goal, bringing the score to 31-24.
With the game coming within a score of seven points in the last five minutes, the Mustangs rallied behind their seniors for one last scoring drive of 2018.
In nine plays, Cal Poly fought their way to Southern Utah’s 31-yard line. On 3rd-and-seven, Jenkins launched his final touchdown pass to Harrison, ending the Thunderbirds chance of victory at 38-24.
In total, Jenkins completed nine of 13 passes for 196 yards to register his career-high five touchdowns.
Protheroe, who has been a staple in the programs offense for the last five years, totaled 134 yards on 34 carries. His 24-yard rush in the third quarter successfully broke the program record for career-high rushing yards at Cal Poly— a record previously set by Craig Young in 1999. Protheroe finished his career at 4,271 rushing yards.
Following the record breaking performance, Protheroe did not fail to mention his teammates’ contribution to his success at Cal Poly.
“[Breaking] the record was great,” Protheroe said. “I wanted it for me a lot, but I wanted it for my O-line and my whole offense because they do a lot of work for me. They let me shine. They mean a lot to me. I’m not really saying goodbye to them because it’s not really a friendship, we’re a family. We’re going to keep in touch and I’ll always remember the memories we shared here.”
Walsh praised his seniors for their performance Saturday night, emphasizing how great Protheroe and Jenkins were in the their final game of their collegiate career.
“[Protheroe] is so humble and such a great guy, and I couldn’t be happier for Khaleel,” Walsh said. “Khaleel threw the ball on the dime and was on the money almost every single time. Great protection, great offensive performance and a great win for us.”
The Mustangs win concludes their 2018 season with a overall record of 5-6— a four win improvement from last seasons record of 1-10. The program finished at .500 in the Big Sky conference with four wins and four loses.
For the last home game of the season, a senior night ceremony was held for the Mustangs’ 16 graduates before the game. Walsh expressed how much he’ll miss the group of men following their impressive victory.
“I think we’re going to miss all those seniors, they’re specials guys,” Walsh said. “They battled through some adversity, had a tough year last year, came back as seniors with great leadership and finished the season the way you should finish a season.”