For the first time since moving to the Div. I-AA level 12 years ago, the Cal Poly football team received a berth into the championship playoffs.
The Mustangs will travel to Missoula, Mont. for a second time this season in the team’s opening round game. The Mustangs lost 36-27 to the Grizzlies on Oct. 22.
“This is the culmination of a lot of work by an awful lot of people, coaches, administrators and most of all, the players, and not just this year’s group,” Cal Poly coach Rich Ellerson said. “A lot of people are celebrating this opportunity, but first for our players who have been working very hard for this. It’s an exciting time.”
Cal Poly needed a win on Saturday in order to keep its playoff hopes alive. The Mustangs defeated Idaho State 35-10 to finish the regular season with an 8-3 record.
Montana is seeded fifth in the 16-team field. They earned an at-large berth after losing to Montana State 16-6 on Saturday, giving the Big Sky Conference title to Eastern Washington, along with the conference’s automatic bid.
Montana is making a record 13th consecutive trip to the playoffs.
Cal Poly finished 9-2 a year ago and 10-1 in 1997, but were denied playoff berths in both instances.
In their last trip to Missoula, Cal Poly was torched on the ground by Grizzlies running back Lex Hilliard. Hilliard carried the ball 34 times for 237 yards.
Anthony Garnett started the game at quarterback for Cal Poly, but suffered a season-ending injury near the end of the game. Redshirt freshman Matt Brennan has filled in since, going 3-1, winning his last three starts.
Redshirt freshman running back James Noble was the Mustangs’ top offensive player against the Grizzlies. Noble carried the ball 22 times for 144 yards against the Grizzlies.
Wide receiver Ramses Barden, also a redshirt freshman, had a pair of key touchdown receptions, one from 39-yards out.
Barden and Noble will need to have big days if the Mustangs are to stay competitive.
New Hampshire (10-1) is the top seed after capturing the automatic qualifying berth from the Atlantic-10 Conference. The Wildcats, who are making their fourth tournament appearance, will be looking to make it past the quarterfinal round for the first time in school history.
Appalachian State (8-3), which is making its 13th tournament appearance, is the No. 2 seed, followed by Hampton (11-0) and Texas State (9-2). Other first-round hosts include Furman (9-2) and Eastern Illinois (9-2).
The Cal Poly-Montana winner will face the Texas State-Georgia Southern survivor in the quarterfinal round on Dec. 3.
Kickoff for the Cal Poly-Montana game is scheduled for 11:05 a.m. on Saturday.