The Cal Poly football team looks to end a two-game slide as the Mustangs battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Saturday.
Jefferson P. Nolan
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Since its inception in 2004, the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe has symbolized the intense rivalry between UC Davis and Cal Poly. Each team wants nothing more than to claim the horseshoe trophy and bring it back to their respective campus.
But with Cal Poly’s overall record of 3-5 and 2-2 in the Big Sky Conference, head coach Tim Walsh and his players recognize that now the opponent doesn’t matter so much.
Cal Poly just needs to win a game.
“Every year, a big goal is to keep the Golden Horseshoe in San Luis Obispo,” Walsh said. “But because how we’ve played the past few weeks, (the goal is just) to win. Winning, regardless of who we’re playing and the rivalry itself is important. … Our players deserve to win a football game.”
In their last game against Northern Arizona, the Mustangs relinquished a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter after Marcus Alford returned a Cal Poly kickoff for 96 yards. The Lumberjacks’ 17-13 victory marked the Mustangs’ second conference defeat in as many weeks and pushed their overall record to two games under .500.
And in the first drive of the second quarter against Northern Arizona, Cal Poly quarterback Dano Graves faked a toss to the running back and rolled out to his right. Scrambling, the Air Force transfer was tackled and felt a pull in his hamstring.
As Walsh saw his third quarterback of the year hit the ground, the fifth-year head coach wasn’t surprised.
At this point in the season, injuries aren’t a surprise to anyone.
Junior quarterback Vince Moraga took the first snaps of the year for Cal Poly, but in its second game against Fresno State, the Oxnard, Calif. native was sidelined with a knee injury. Both senior offensive lineman Lefi Letuligasenoa and junior wide receiver Willie Tucker also have suffered injuries.
And right before halftime in Cal Poly’s game against Montana, the Mustangs’ leading rusher junior slotback Kristaan Ivory felt his right ankle give way. Ivory had one carry against Northern Arizona, but sat out most of the game.
“We have a lot of guys down,” Graves said. “Almost half of our offense is injured, and the other half is kind of hobbling. We just need to get healthy on offense and be able to finish drives.”
On paper, the Mustangs don’t look too much different from last year. But last year, Cal Poly averaged 38 points a game whereas the Mustangs have mustered 25 per game this season.
Last year, the game against UC Davis marked the Mustangs’ inaugural game in the Big Sky Conference in which Walsh and his team ended a three-game losing streak in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe. Slotback Deonte Williams rushed for 188 yards and scored three touchdowns that led Cal Poly to a 28-20 victory.
But in their past two games, the Mustangs have recorded a total of 27 points.
The defense is holding its own, but the offense has yet to bare its teeth.
“I think offensively, we just need to put the ball in the end zone,” Ivory said. “Our defense is playing its ass off. We just need to help them out and put scores on the board.”
According to Walsh, Cal Poly is simply struggling to make the “big plays.”
“We’ve got to get back to the basics of the game of football,” he said. “That’s blocking, running, holding onto the football and throwing to the guy who is open. When we do that, we can be as successful we need to point-wise. That’s how you win games. When you try to create plays, it’s usually not what you want to do.”
While Ivory is expected to make a comeback for Saturday’s game, it is probable that sophomore Chris Brown will take the snaps against UC Davis as Cal Poly heads north to try and keep the Golden Horseshoe in San Luis Obispo.
When questioned about the hype behind Saturday’s rivalry matchup, there was no hesitation in Ivory’s response.
“Oh, we hate Davis,” Ivory said with a laugh. “We have to beat them.”
And at this point in the season, the Mustangs will take any win they can get.