Coming off its bye week and a dominating win against No. 16/17 ranked North Dakota State (4-2, 0-1 Great West), the No. 3 Cal Poly (5-1, 3-0 Great West) football team looks forward to its next match-up Saturday against No. 9/10 Montana (4-2, 2-1 Big Sky) in Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
The No. 3 ranking is the highest the Mustangs have been ranked in Division I-AA. Last season the Mustangs were ranked as high as No. 5.
“Saturday’s game is the most important game of the year because it’s our game this week,” head coach Rich Ellerson said. “Just like our game against North Dakota State was the most important game of the year at that time, because it’s all that we can control.”
The Mustangs have won five straight and are well on their way to defending their first Great West Football Conference championship with a 3-0 start in conference play this year. The Mustangs lone loss was at the hands of the Division I-A Troy University Trojans (2-4, 1-1 Sun Belt) in the first weekend of play.
In the Mustangs bye week, the team moved up six spots in both The Sports Network and ESPN/USA Today polls. The No. 3 ranking is the highest in Cal Poly football history.
“We don’t pay attention to any of the rankings,” assistant coach Gene McKeehan said. Ellerson added that although the high ranking is rewarding, it has no impact on what the team has to do to win week in and week out.
When the Mustangs take on the Grizzlies this Saturday they will be looking to thwart the team that has had much success against the Mustangs, winning all nine meeting the two teams have had since 1969. In the last five meetings since 1994 in Missoula, Mont., the Grizzlies have outscored the Mustangs 209-31.
However, under Ellerson, the Mustangs have given the Grizzlies much closer battles, yet still falling short in three meetings. The Grizzlies won the 2003 game 17-14 with a score late in the game.
“We’re not going to play hard because it’s Montana but because we love to play the game,” Ellerson said. “We don’t treat this any different than any other game.”
The Grizzlies lost earlier in the season to the Oregon Ducks (6-1, 3-1 Pac-10) and suffered a loss last weekend to Eastern Washington (4-2, 3-1 Big Sky). Last weekend’s loss snapped the Grizzlies 16-game home winning streak.
“The toughest part about this team is their venue environment,” Ellerson said. “It’s a loud stadium and their fans know when to make noise; if we can manage the noise we’ll be alright.”
The Mustangs are led this year by senior defensive end Chris Gocong, who was runner up in the ballot for the Buck Buchanan Award in 2004. Along with senior quarterback Anthony Garnett, who started the last seven games of the 2004 season and threw for 1,711 yards and 14 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman running back James Noble has been stellar in his first season rushing for 100-yards in three games and averaging 7.3 yards per carry.
“Our team being healthy is a huge issue and it’s important that every individual is fresh and healthy as they can be,” Ellerson said. Ellerson gave his players Monday and Tuesday off after their last win and also gave the team the weekend off.
“We’re relatively healthy for being halfway through a football season,” McKeehan said. “If we don’t make mistakes and hold on to the ball we’ll give ourselves a good shot at winning this game.”