Christa Lam / Mustang News

The Cal Poly football team won 21-16 against UC Davis at the Alex G. Spanos Stadium Saturday night, winning the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe during homecoming weekend.

For a team that averages 37.3 points per game, the Mustangs (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) had trouble finding a rhythm on offense against a surprisingly stout UC Davis (2-6, 1-4) defense. The Mustangs managed just 144 yards by halftime, with the Aggies winning 9-7.

The Mustangs opened the game with multiple first downs before senior quarterback Dano Graves fumbled on a pitch to senior slotback Kori Garcia. UC Davis’ defensive end Anthony Baumgart recovered the fumble and took it 61 yards for a touchdown to put the Aggies up 6-0. From there, it was a defensive struggle on an unusually low scoring game.

UC Davis came into the game with the seventh ranked rush defense in the Big Sky conference, but held senior fullback Joe Protheroe to just 95 yards on 27  carries. Cal Poly’s offensive line struggled to get a good push on the UC Davis defensive line, leaving Protheroe, Garcia and junior slotback Kyle Lewis with few running lanes to take advantage of.

On the other side, the Mustangs, usually pretty stout against the run, allowed the Aggies to run the ball up the field with relative ease before coming up with stops in the red zone.

Graves broke through from one yard out to score a touchdown in the second quarter to finally put the Mustangs on the board and give them a 7-6 lead. On the ensuing possession, the Aggies’ running back Manusamoa Luuga broke a long run that would have been a touchdown if junior defensive back BJ Nard hadn’t chased him down at the 8-yard line. Senior linebacker Chris Santini punctuated the Mustangs’ goal line stand with a sack on third down to hold the Aggies to a field goal, the final score before halftime.

After halftime, the Mustangs still had trouble in the running game. Graves was hit multiple times when handing off to a running back as Protheroe and junior fullback Jared Mohamed both had trouble churning out more than a few yards at a time.

Jason Hung/Mustang News

The Cal Poly defense clamped down hard in the second half in response to the offense struggling and forced a punt on the Aggies’ first possession in the third quarter. From there, Graves orchestrated an eight play, 45-yard drive capped by breaking three tackles in a 14-yard rumble into the end zone. That gave the Mustangs the lead they’d keep for the rest of the game.

With 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, the Aggies got the ball back after the Mustangs couldn’t pick up a yard on fourth and one. Down five with this much time gave the Aggies a good chance to march down the field and score to make it a much closer game.

But senior linebacker Joseph Gigantino had other ideas.

On second and 10 from the Aggies’ 30-yard line, UC Davis tried a flea flicker to catch the defense off-guard. Gigantino reacted immediately and ran through to sack quarterback Ben Scott and force the Aggies in to third and 23. On the next play, he nearly had an interception over the middle of the field to force the incompletion and the Aggies to punt.

Given a strong stop by the defense, the offense responded in the best way possible. Lewis broke through an arm tackle in the second level and sprinted for a 91-yard touchdown run to give the Mustangs a 21-9 lead with 2:54 left in the game.

UC Davis scored on a five yard pass to cut Cal Poly’s lead to 21-16 with under a minute remaining but the Mustangs recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock on for a win in this year’s homecoming game.

This win keeps the Mustangs fourth in conference and will likely move up the FCS rankings from their No. 17 ranking. Next up for Cal Poly is a road match up at Sacramento State (1-7, 1-4) next Saturday. With the way their defense played in the win against UC Davis, the Mustangs look like they have the components of a team that could be hard to beat in the coming weeks.

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