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In front of a crowd of more than 10,000 on Saturday night, the Cal Poly football team (6-5, 5-3 Big Sky Conference) surrendered possession of the Golden Horseshoe — and any chance of a playoff berth — after a 48-35 loss to UC Davis (2-8, 1-6) at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
This was the Mustangs’ first home loss of the season and 48 points is the most they’ve allowed all year.
The Aggies entered the contest with only one victory this year and were winless in Big Sky Conference play.
Cal Poly once again dug itself a hole early, trailing 31-14 at the end of the first half. After the Mustangs’ second touchdown — a 70-yard run by senior fullback Brandon Howe — the Aggies defense stopped the Mustangs for the rest of the first half.
The Aggies were propelled to victory by senior running back Brian Manzanares, who rushed 37 times for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Cal Poly’s defense simply didn’t have an answer for the senior back, who set a new career high in rushing.
“(Manzanares) did a great job with his vision and cutbacks to start the game,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said.
The Mustangs amassed 457 total yards of offense, but the majority of them came in the second half when the Mustangs were attempting to make a comeback. The Aggies out-dueled the Mustangs in this category as well, gaining 530 yards of their own.
With 8:14 remaining in the third quarter, Manzanares had already rushed for 207 yards while the Mustangs had just 250 total yards of offense.
The Mustangs’ leading rusher on the night was sophomore running back Kori Garcia, who rushed 20 times for 151 yards and a touchdown. Junior quarterback Chris Brown rushed 15 times for 24 yards and two touchdowns. He also went 13-of-19 in the air, passing for 159 yards and another touchdown.
“We got knocked around, we got beat up out there and for tonight, the better team won,” Walsh said.
Cal Poly had trouble defending the pass, too. The Aggies were consistently able to pick up yards in bunches with deep passes down the sideline. Five different players finished with three or more catches.
“We weren’t physical against a physical team,” senior linebacker Nick Dzubnar said. “They’re gonna run it up against you and it ends badly.”
While the Mustangs did get the offense going, the 17-point deficit proved too large to overcome.
Cal Poly came out in the second half and cut the lead to 10 when Brown punched in a score from the 1-yard line after Garcia drove the offense down the field.
The defense forced a field goal after initially surrendering a 50-yard pass play, which seemed to gain momentum for the Mustangs. But the Aggies passing attack really began to click in the second half much more than the first half.
There were some uncharacteristic penalties and fumbles by the Mustangs, enabling the Aggies to keep drives alive and add points to their lead.
“I got a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, and that can’t happen,” Dzubnar said. “When I lose my head, other guys start thinking it’s okay for them to lose their head.”
Senior running back Kenny Mitchell fumbled on the 46-yard line, setting up a field goal for the Aggies, extending their lead to 17. Both teams essentially went on to trade scores until the final whistle blew.
Dzubnar is now in sole possession of the single-season tackle record, with 160. The previous record was held by Kyle Shotwell, who made 158 tackles in 2005.
The Mustangs also set the Big Sky Conference record for rushing touchdowns with 41 on the year. The 41 rushing touchdowns also ties the school record, which was set in 2006.
The final game for the Mustangs will come on the road when they travel to San Diego on Nov. 22.
“This one hurts,” Dzubnar said. “I’m just looking forward to going out there one last time and having fun with these guys.”