Brennan Angel

With 32 wins in the past four seasons, the Cal Poly football team’s senior class won more games than any other in a four-year stretch of the program’s 91-year history.

The last one came Saturday, when the Mustangs ended their season with a 55-0 rout of hapless Savannah State in front of 7,867 fans at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

“You really couldn’t have written a better ending for it,” said Cal Poly middle linebacker Kyle Shotwell, one of 16 seniors. “We got to win our last game. If you can’t do it in the championship, this is as good a way to go out as any. We won the last game of our college careers 55-0. Not many people can say that.”

Cal Poly entered the season with hopes of winning a third straight Great West Football Conference title and reaching the Division I-AA playoffs for the second straight year.

Although neither of those goals were accomplished, the Mustangs (7-4, 2-2) beat rival UC Davis for the first time since 2003 and knocked off a I-A team (San Diego State) for the first time since 2003.

All this considering the Mustangs’ schedule – featuring two I-A teams and three ranked in the top 19 of I-AA – was what head coach Rich Ellerson called “as tough” as any his team has faced since his arrival in 2001.

“It’s hard for me to visualize Cal Poly football without those seniors,” Ellerson said. “Fourteen of those 16 are fifth-year guys. To have that chance to smile and sing (the fight song) on the last day was really important.”

It was certainly a day to remember seniors Shotwell, Anthony Randolph and Jeremy Konaris, who combined for five of the Mustangs’ eight touchdowns.

“It means a lot,” Cal Poly senior cornerback Courtney Brown said. “We’re glad that we didn’t end on last week’s loss. To get out and play another game on this field was incredible.”

Indeed, the Mustangs took out their frustrations on Savannah State (2-9), which has lost 22 straight against I-AA teams and suffered through a season in which it was outscored 379-108 and lost to three Division II schools.

Savannah State has won less than three games seven years in a row.

Cal Poly was coming off a crushing 51-14 Great West loss at No. 4 North Dakota State (10-1, 4-0) on Nov. 11.

“We didn’t want to go out with a loss, especially last week’s, which hopefully will never happen again in Cal Poly history,” Cal Poly sophomore rover Mark Restelli said. “It’s just pretty emotional. We wanted to get a win for (the seniors). We wanted to come out and smash on a team to make up for last week.”

Cal Poly sophomore tailback James Noble was thankful for the seniors helping him become the first player in school history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons.

“Coming in, they just took us under their wing,” Noble said. “It was great how they introduced us to the system. We just tried to go out with a bang. We tried to give them the best game we could as younger players and let everybody know how the future is.”

Did they ever.

Cal Poly earned its largest margin of victory by shutout since a 55-0 win over Cal State Los Angeles in 1958.

Noble carried 18 times for 127 yards and a score, Konaris rushed for three touchdowns and two of sophomore quarterback Matt Brennan’s three completions were for scores.

The score could have been more lopsided – it was 41-0 at halftime – because Cal Poly threw just once in the second half and knelt on the ball in the red zone in the final minute.

Altogether, it was possibly the Mustangs’ most complete performance of the season:

Cal Poly outgained Savannah State 521-144 in yards from scrimmage, including a 434-54 advantage in rushing yards.

The Mustangs had 29 first downs compared to just nine for the Tigers.

With a time of possession of 36 minutes, 6 seconds, Cal Poly never punted.

The Mustangs were 7 for 9 on third-down conversion attempts and 2 for 2 on fourth downs.

“We played the way we expected to,” said Ellerson, who is 6-0 in regular-season finales at Cal Poly.

Cal Poly won four games this season by a touchdown or less and lost three by 10 or fewer points.

“A group of lesser men would have been 5-6,” Ellerson said. “The difference between 5-6 and 9-2 – I’ve never seen it so fine. These guys faced some really tough stuff, whether it was schedule, injuries, travel. They just waded through it and kept going.”

Cal Poly sophomore tailback Fred Hives II carried 11 times for 93 yards and Brennan was 3 of 5 for 87 yards and the two scores – a 58-yard strike to Randolph and an 18-yard play to freshman H-back Jon Hall.

Cal Poly senior free safety Kenny Chicoine picked off two passes, extending his school record for career interceptions to 20.

The most memorable interception of his career might have come Saturday, when he picked off a Garrett Williams pass and returned it eight yards before a lateral to Shotwell.

Shotwell then weaved through Savannah State players for a 65-yard touchdown jaunt, the first score of his career.

Shotwell, a Buck Buchanan Award candidate who finished the season with 122 total tackles and seven sacks, chose “togetherness” as the word to best describe the senior class.

“We really care about each other and love to play the game together,” said Shotwell, who finished eight tackles shy of becoming just the second player in school history to reach 400. “We’ll play in front of five people, we’ll play in front of 50,000 people. We just love to play. That’s the kind of philosophy coach Ellerson instilled in us. We really bought into it. I think our record over the last four years speaks for itself. When you believe in a system that works, you’re going to do big things.”

Cal Poly senior nose tackle Chris White had five tackles (4.5 for loss) and one sack. Senior safety Joe Wighton recovered a fumble.

Brown, who along with Shotwell and Chicoine is one of at least three NFL prospects for Cal Poly, said his favorite moment as a Mustang was not on a game day.

“Most of my memories come from summertime two years ago,” Brown said. “The whole team just stayed the whole summer in San Luis Obispo. No school or nobody else. That’s when we put in all the work for the (next two) seasons. It showed and we bonded and played really well together.

“They’re amazing people. I love them to death and I’m going to miss playing with them.”

In the last four years, the 16 Cal Poly seniors have beaten two I-A teams, reached the postseason for the first time ever and won a playoff game, seen two teammates win Buck Buchanan Awards before being chosen in the third round of the NFL Draft and witnessed the completion of Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

Those are some of the reasons why when the 16 seniors walked alongside family members while having their names called for the last time on Mustang Memorial Field, nothing but elation graced their faces.

Said Ellerson, “They’ve had arguably as hot a four-year run as any class can look at.”


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