Junior slotback Kristaan Ivory leads the Big Sky Conference averaging 130 yards per contest through four games. Cal Poly faces Yale on Saturday at 2:05 p.m. in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Jefferson P. Nolan
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After snapping a two-game losing streak with a come-from-behind victory against Portland State last week, the Cal Poly football team will return home Saturday afternoon to host Yale in the last non conference matchup of the 2013 season.
For the Mustangs (2-2, 1-0 Big Sky), Saturday’s game marks the first Big Sky team to take on an Ivy League opponent.
And while it’s a game that serves as a landmark for the football program, the Mustangs are simply looking to get their mojo back.
Against Portland State (3-2, 0-1 Big Sky) last week, sophomore quarterback Chris Brown rushed for a total of 129 yards and recorded three touchdowns prompting a Cal Poly rally after trailing 21-7 at the half.
Junior running back Kristaan Ivory rushed for 184 yards on 32 carries, recording his third 100-yard game in a Cal Poly uniform. Ivory is ranked first in the Big Sky and No. 9 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in rushing yards per game.
“Offensively, we just need to finish our drives,” Ivory said. “In the first half (against Portland State), we weren’t finishing our drives, and we were just shooting ourselves in the foot. We’ve got to convert third downs and keep the ball moving.”
Entering the game last week, the Vikings averaged 612 yards and 43 points in their four non conference games. Against Cal Poly, Portland State recorded a total of 487 yards and 34 points, but the Vikings came up short as the Mustangs took control of the second half of play.
The Vikings were held to only 42 yards and no scores in the third quarter as head coach Tim Walsh and his team battled back into the game.
“I knew we needed to get a quick score,” senior offensive lineman Giovanni Sani said. “Coming out, we needed to score in that first drive. At halftime, (Walsh) just said ‘What are you waiting for? Let’s go out and let’s get it done.’”
At halftime, the team made adjustments to the offensive lineup posted by the Vikings; it was a formation that Walsh did not see coming.
“Last game, we thought we knew for sure what Portland State was going to do, and they did two completely different things to us,” Walsh said. “That’s part of the reason why it took us so long to get going.”
After their 38-34 victory, Cal Poly ranks No. 18 in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll and No. 19 in The Sports Network media poll.
But now, with their sights set on Saturday’s game, Walsh and his team have made it a goal to avoid putting themselves in a hole, as they did against Portland State. According to Walsh, his team has been anything but consistent.
“Our entire football team has played inconsistently,” Walsh said. “Our third quarter was (one of the best) quarters we’ve played since I’ve been here. The expectation is to come out firing.”
And with their upcoming game against Yale, the Mustangs have learned they need to expect the unexpected.
“The good clue for us is that we don’t know what they’re going to do,” Walsh said.
Yale improved its record to 2-0 with a 38-23 win over Cornell last Saturday. Thus far, the Bulldogs have averaged 38.5 points and 551.5 yards in total offense in their two games — 270 yards rushing and 281.5 yards passing. Yale’s junior running back, Tyler Varga (a first-team All-Ivy League selection in 2012) has rushed for 341 yards and one touchdown, and quarterback Henry Furman has recorded three touchdowns and passed for a total of 482 yards.
“(Yale) has put themselves in a situation in which people are starting to talk about them in the Ivy League,” Walsh said. “The expectation is that we’re going to be playing a team that’s in our category. We better be ready for that challenge. Also, the eastern exposure is gigantic for us. It’s a good opportunity for us to make a statement for ourselves as far as who we are nationally.”
Ivory leads the Mustangs in rushing yards, having run for 521 yards and four touchdowns. Brown leads Cal Poly through the air after completing 26 of 53 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns.
Brown, now settling in as the starting quarterback after junior Vince Moraga suffered a knee injury in the second game of the season against Fresno State, has embraced his role as an offensive leader and is searching for the momentum the Mustangs need as they delve further into conference play.
“The plan is to come out fighting from the get-go,” Brown said. “I’ve got to keep the team and our tempo going and stay true to our offense. (When Moraga got injured) I just had to step up when Coach called my name. That’s what was going through my mind: just to step up for the team.”
After claiming the Big Sky title last season, the team recognizes the importance of nonconference games. Each win, each loss can make or break a season for Walsh and his team. And despite the hype of facing an Ivy League school on Saturday, the winning mentality remains the same.
“It’s go time,” Ivory said. “We’re deep into the season now; we’re in the thick of it. (The game) should get a lot of national notoriety because it is an Ivy League school. We finally got a win after losing two games, and we need to keep our confidence up and our streak going. It’s definitely go time.”