Sheila Sobchik

After its 18-14 win over Southern Utah in the Hall of Fame Game on Sept. 30, it was as if the Cal Poly football team was ready to put the helmets back on and play four more quarters.

The reason?

UC Davis is coming to town.

“That’s the biggest game of the year,” Cal Poly sophomore wide receiver Tredale Tolver said. “We’ve been waiting a full year for that rematch. That’s our rivalry game.”

Tolver and the Mustangs (4-1), who are ranked No. 5 in The Sports Network’s Division I-AA poll, will finally get that opportunity Saturday when the 16th-ranked Aggies (2-2) visit Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

The 32nd installment of the Horseshoe Classic will look much different than last year’s edition, which UC Davis won 20-13 in Davis. Last year, Cal Poly’s Matt Brennan was making his first start at quarterback and the Mustangs were without injured star tailback James Noble. Both were freshmen.

Now, Walter Payton Award candidate Noble and the steadily improving Brennan hope to give the Mustangs their first win over the Aggies since an 18-14 triumph in 2003.

UC Davis has a 16-13-2 edge in the all-time series, which began in 1939 but did not become an annual event until 1978.

“I think it’s always on the map,” Cal Poly free safety Kenny Chicoine said. “It’s always one of our goals at the beginning of the season – to beat Davis – because that’s the rivalry game.”

The Aggies have won three of the past four matchups, including a 36-33 thriller in 2004 in San Luis Obispo that some analysts considered the best game of the year in Division I-AA.

Cal Poly, which has three home games from Sept. 30 to Oct. 21, has a bye Oct. 14.

“That will be a great thing because we understand we have the (UC Davis) game and then we go into our bye week and have a great opportunity to rest,” Chicoine said.

Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson said he has been looking forward to the UC Davis game “since the final gun” against Southern Utah.

Both schools carry a proud football tradition.

UC Davis is the alma mater of former New York Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien, who threw for 25,094 yards and 128 touchdowns in a 10-year NFL career.

Cal Poly is the alma mater of Hall of Fame Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden, former USC head coach Ted Tollner and former NFL general manager Bobby Beathard.

Although that rich history might not matter come Saturday, it sets the table for a high-profile game that will be monitored around the country by those at both the Division I-A and I-AA levels.

Two of the top four crowds at Cal Poly home games have come against UC Davis. The Mustangs’ attendance record (9,387) came against the Aggies in 2004.

The game itself is shaping up to be a classic battle of offense versus defense.

UC Davis quarterback Jon Grant is sixth in Division I-AA in passing yards per game (261) and the Aggies lead the Great West Football Conference in first downs per game (20.5).

Meanwhile, Cal Poly has the top-ranked scoring defense among 117 Division I-AA teams, allowing just 8.2 points per game.

Cal Poly senior middle linebacker Kyle Shotwell has 53 tackles (29 solo), freshman defensive end Ryan Shotwell has 29 tackles and 4.5 sacks and senior strong safety Randy Samuel has three interceptions.

Ryan Shotwell has rung up two sacks in each of the last two games, including a pair against Division I-A San Jose State in a 17-7 loss Sept. 23.

“That’s extraordinary for a guy his age, because he’s just a shadow of what he will be,” Ellerson said of Ryan Shotwell.

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