Jefferson P. Nolan
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While head coach Tim Walsh has always advised his players to have a short memory of defeat, the Cal Poly football team is looking for revenge Saturday.
The Mustangs have an opportunity to sweep California’s Football Championship Subdivision teams as they go head-to-head with Sacramento State in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
And after snapping a two-game losing streak with their road victory against UC Davis, the Mustangs can’t help but recall their defeat against the Sacramento State last season.
“Short term memory is important, but I think that the only thing you can do with your past is learn from it,” Walsh said. “It left a bitter taste in our mouth, no question.”
In the game against the Hornets in Cal Poly’s 2012 campaign, Sacramento State amassed 326 yards in the first 30 minutes of play.
The 35-29 loss to the Hornets ended a seven-game winning streak for Walsh and his team; it was their first defeat in the Big Sky Conference, and even a season-high 387 rushing yards wasn’t enough to overcome Sacramento State.
But this year, both teams currently hold a 4-5 record and are 3-2 in the Big Sky Conference.
And now, according to Walsh, much is at stake in Saturday’s game.
The defeats the Mustangs and Hornets suffered in conference play are similar.
The Hornets lost by one point in overtime against Northern Arizona and again in overtime to Montana earlier in the season. Cal Poly was defeated by a kick return from Northern Arizona and also lost in overtime against Montana.
Sacramento State enters the matchup with an average of 29.9 points-per-game. The Mustangs average 26.2 points-per-game.
“Until the last couple of weeks, we hadn’t been creating turnovers, and offensively, we haven’t been creating the chunk plays that we made a year ago,” Walsh said. “We’re really 20 seconds away from being 5-0 in the Big Sky. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact.”
Slotback Kristaan Ivory is expected to challenge the Hornets’ defense as the junior is currently averaging 91.3 rushing yards per game and is ranked No. 5 in the Big Sky and No. 41 in the FCS in rushing yards despite only attempting four carries in his last two games.
Walsh hasn’t decided who will take the first snaps at quarterback against Sacramento State as Dano Graves and Chris Brown compete to fill the starting roll. Against UC Davis, Brown — who completed only a single pass — rushed for a total of 195 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-16 victory. Graves is coming off a week of rest following a hamstring injury.
However, while the quarterback arrangement is still undecided, Cal Poly’s defense has been a stalwart lately. Cal Poly’s third year defensive coordinator Josh Brown is pleased with the team’s defensive effort, and he said the recent defensive success is not the result of any radical changes.
“‘Keep choppin’ wood,’ that’s our motto,” Brown said. “We just keep going out and we’re getting better every week. It’s doing the little things. Getting turnovers and playing sound, fundamental football.”
As one of the captains on the defensive squad, lineman Sullivan Grosz hasn’t forgotten Cal Poly’s loss to the Hornets last season. Even with his short memory of defeat, the senior has an extra incentive to produce on Saturday.
“This game means a lot more than a lot of people know,” Grosz said. “For me, last year, they knocked us out of our undefeated reign that we were rolling with. I have a lot of built-up feelings from last years’ game. I just really want to go in and beat these guys.”
For both teams, a win is vital for any hope of playoff competition, and Grosz is always playing for his teammates.
“We’re playing for our pride, in a way,” Grosz said. “Not a lot has changed now that we’ve had some tough losses under our belt. We’re still playing for pride, and we’re having fun. I’m just proud of all the guys each week, coming out and being ready to battle. That’s all I can ask from them. It seems like we’ve been executing, and we’ve been stopping some big-time players. I think we need to keep that momentum, keep that excitement and energy, and I think we’ll do really well.”
The Mustangs will conclude their home schedule the week following Sacramento State by hosting Eastern Washington, the 2010 FCS champions.
But as the season comes to an end, it is one game at a time for the Cal Poly football team.
“We’re going to be expecting a four-quarter battle,” Grosz said. “It’s going to be an uphill fight. I know we’ll be ready.”