Running back Mark Rodgers rushed for a career-high 235 yards off 15 carries last week against South Dakota, helping his team to a 38-24 win. Ryan Sidarto — Mustang Daily

When fullback Jake Romanelli and the Cal Poly Mustangs (7-3, 2-1 Great West) began the season, they had two goals in mind.

The first: win the Great West Conference to get a chance at playoffs. The second: beat hated-rival UC Davis.

“Those have been all our goals,” Romanelli said. “It’s pretty clear cut.”

With Southern Utah clinching the Great West conference crown, the first goal is out the window, but head coach Tim Walsh and the Mustangs still have a chance to complete the second. This weekend, they host rival UC Davis (4-5, 2-1) with more than just pride on the line.

“This is a playoff game,” Walsh said at Monday’s press conference. “As a football team and a football program that is what you want. We are playing for something important.”

With a win this week, the Mustangs could very well be playoff bound. There are 20 spots — which are awarded to multiple conference championships and at-large selections — in this year’s postseason bracket. With the Mustangs earning a No.19 ranking in The Sports Network’s FCS Top-25 Football Poll, they look like they should have a good shot at getting in.

But at some points this season, it didn’t always seem like the Mustangs would earn this chance.

Cal Poly started the year with a 2-0 start, boasting wins over Montana (then-ranked No. 1) and Humboldt State. But in week three, the Mustangs slipped against Texas State, suffering a loss in their first game of a five-game road stretch.

During that span, the Mustangs went 2-3, losing to Fresno State and soon to be conference champion, Southern Utah.

With its record 4-3, Cal Poly struggled in its next two games but posted wins nonetheless. Against St. Francis — a game in which Walsh said may have been the defense’s worst of the year — the Mustangs couldn’t seem to pull away from a team which had just one win. Against South Dakota last week, the Mustangs had to overcome an early 14-0 deficit.

It hasn’t been easy, but with one more win, the Mustangs would be 8-3 — the same record Jonathan Dally, Ramses Barden and the Cal Poly football team posted in 2008.

“To know that — at least in the win column — (we) can win as much as the 2008 team did,” quarterback Tony Smith said. “It’s a special accomplishment.”

Smith was a part of that team and sat on the bench during the season. In those games, he learned from maybe one of the best quarterbacks for Cal Poly in recent years — Dally. Dally commanded an offense which averaged 461 yards per game and 45 points per game, posting wins over San Diego State and UC Davis en route to a playoff berth.

Now in Smith’s senior season, and his final regular season game at Cal Poly, he has a chance to do something which Dally made almost look easy — take Cal Poly to the playoffs.

“I want to be known as a winner, and I want this team to be known as a winning team,” Smith said. “It’s for the guys. We put in the hard work, we dedicated ourselves to being successful and winning is all that matters.”

Smith is undefeated as a starter this season, but fellow quarterback Andre Broadous is once again threatening to steal some spotlight from the senior. Broadous took over the starting spot when Smith was hurt earlier this season, and some argue the offense is better with him under center.

But since Broadous suffered an injury at the end of Cal Poly’s game against Southern Utah three weeks ago, he hasn’t been on the field.

“My shoulder feels a lot better,” Broadous said. “I’ve been in the training room a lot. The treatment has been going good. Saturday was the best it felt so far. The pain is pretty much gone.”

Walsh said he expects Broadous to be healthy enough to play this weekend but did not clarify who would start under center.

“The quarterback situation is the quarterback situation,” Walsh said. “It’s Tony’s senior season, we understand that, but the bottom line is we are going to do whatever it takes to beat UC Davis as a football team.”

UC Davis is the third-ranked team in the Great West standings and the reigning conference champion. The Aggies have a win over San Jose State under their belt and average 22 points per game as well as 318 yards of total offense per game.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for their program and their tradition that they have,” Walsh said. “Bob Biggs does a tremendous job and I know they will be well prepared and well coached.”

The Mustangs are the second-ranked team in the Great West and lead in rushing, averaging 255 yards rushing per game and interceptions (17).

The passing offense, however, has been a different story. It didn’t necessarily get going in last week’s game against South Dakota. Smith passed for 41 yards and completed two passes against the Coyotes. In his six games played this season, he has thrown for 441 yards and two touchdowns in six games. In five, Broadous has passed for 69 more yards and two more touchdowns.

But for Smith, none of that matters. He doesn’t care about stats, he said. He cares about wins and losses.

“At the end of the day we are going to look back at this year and we are going to talk about the things we accomplished,” Smith said. “It’s not going to be about 10,000 passing yards or 50 touchdowns. No, it’s going to be about beating Davis and how we did in playoffs. This is a must win.”

Smith will have a chance to prove his worth this weekend against UC Davis. Normally, the game against the Aggies needs no hype. But this year in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe, with the playoffs, the rivalry and everything else on the line, it’s far more important than just a mere goal the Mustangs had to start the year.

“It’s the outcome of our 2010 season,” Walsh said. “This is really what competitive sports are all about.”

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