This game needs no hype — linebacker Kennith Jackson knows it.
He’s been on the field for the past three contests against UC Davis. He knows the team’s never beaten the Aggies under head coach Tim Walsh. He witnessed the Mustangs lose grip of a 21-3 halftime lead two seasons ago and watched the Aggies waltz away with a one-point win in the final seconds.
Jackson’s seen it all.
“It hurts to lose to your rival,” Jackson said. “It always stings just a little bit deeper.”
But with the momentum of what people are calling Walsh’s biggest win behind them, the Mustangs are heading into their latest game against the Aggies with some much-needed confidence and are hoping to trump UC Davis for the first time since 2008. The Mustangs will host UC Davis in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe on Saturday in Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
It’ll be the Mustangs’ first-ever game in the Big Sky Conference, and it’s one none of the players can wait for.
“We understand this week it’s about Davis, that’s the only game that’s really important to us right now,” Jackson said. “I want this win more than any other win this season.”
That’s due in part to the way the Aggies upset the Mustangs the past two seasons. In 2010, Cal Poly came into the contest against the Aggies one win away from potentially grabbing hold of an at-large playoff berth. They had the upperhand for most of the game, racing out to an 18-point lead at the break.
But then the Mustangs faltered. They gave up two second half touchdowns and a 2-point conversion with 35 seconds left on the clock to drop a 22-21 loss in their final game of the season. It left the Mustangs one Division I win shy of the NCAA recommended seven victories for playoff contention and the team was forced to watch the postseason from home.
The Aggies did it again in 2011, posting an early 18-point lead the Mustangs couldn’t overcome. Cal Poly rallied late, but didn’t make enough plays and fell 24-17.
According to Walsh, UC Davis hasn’t lost much talent from that team.
“Obviously they have created us problems at certain points in time. They are a huge challenge, are extremely well coached and I think they’re gifted athletically,” Walsh said. “They are probably the most underrated team in the Big Sky, and I think they are one of the better football teams we are going to play.”
But the Mustangs themselves are looking like a talented team up to this point. A week after posting a 41-14 win over nonscholarship San Diego, the Mustangs traveled for a game against Football Bowl Subdivision-level Wyoming, a team which went 8-5 in the Mountain West Conference last season, and knocked off the Cowboys, 24-22.
“That game was a great win,” Walsh said. “I hear everyone talking about you beat an FBS school, you did all those things, but that game, to be honest, means absolutely nothing if we don’t play well this week. We need to play well this week. We need to win this week.”
Quarterback Andre Broadous will be key if the Mustangs plan on doing so. He went 12 for 19 two weeks ago against San Diego, throwing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. Last week, his numbers sputtered. He went 7 for 12 with 34 yards and an interception.
But that’s not a concern, Broadous said.
“It’s different game by game,” Broadous said. “Coming into the Wyoming game, I mean that’s a great team, we wanted to come into the game with ball control. It means a lot of runs and whatnot, not a lot of passing, but efficient passing. Against San Diego, we came out and we wanted to put up points, so that required a little more open of a playbook.”
Broadous will have running back Deonte Williams backing him up. A year after losing home run threat Mark Rodgers, Williams is looking like the go-to running back on the ground this season. Williams topped a 109-yard performance against San Diego with a 187-yard performance against Wyoming. In that game, he had a 65-yard touchdown on the Mustangs’ first drive and then ripped off a 74-yard run a drive later.
“We just executed the plays that we practiced during the week,” Williams said. “We knew with their defensive schemes, we had a couple of plays that, if we ran them right, they would work to perfection.”
The Mustangs hope they can repeat that same success this weekend against UC Davis.
“We’ve been thinking about this game for a while now, ever since we lost to them last year,” Broadous said. “It’s never been one of those games where you lose and forget about it. It’s one of those games that you remember, it stays with you to the next year. It’s finally here.”