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Last week’s 30-28 loss at Idaho State put the Cal Poly football team in a precarious position, dropping its Big Sky Conference record to 5-2 and hurting its chances of a conference title.
There are four teams above the Mustangs in the standings with just one conference loss. For Cal Poly to contend for the title, all those teams will need to lose this weekend, and the Mustangs need a win against rival UC Davis on Saturday.
Head coach Tim Walsh addressed the distance between Cal Poly and the Big Sky title.
“When (the team) set their goals for this year, they were to win the Big Sky, go to the national playoffs and keep the Golden Horseshoe in San Luis Obispo,” Walsh said. “In reality, all three are alive, although one of them is a huge stretch, obviously, but the big thing is beat UC Davis to be 6-2 in the Big Sky and the best we could possibly be right now.”
After speaking with Walsh and senior linebacker Nick Dzubnar, it’s clear they know their fate and seem prepared to do all they can to make their case for a national playoff berth.
“The trip back was pretty rough,” Dzubnar said, referring to the flight home from Idaho State. “I think a lot of people had time to reflect on it and watch film on Sunday. We had a team run yesterday and the energy was pretty good. It’s UC Davis. If you can’t get excited to play your rival, then don’t show up.”
Dzubnar also said he’s expecting to crush UC Davis so the Mustangs can show FCS how they really play. The Aggies are last in the Big Sky after going 0-6 in conference play this year. However, following the tough loss, the Mustangs seem very intent to not take their opponent lightly but also enjoy some catharsis from winning a rivalry game.
“In reality, (UC Davis) have probably played one bad game and that was against Montana State,” Walsh said. “They’ve been extremely competitive in all their games and could easily be 5-2 right now as easy as they are 0-6.”
Conference games are always tough, but the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe adds more fuel to the fire for both teams. The Mustangs stand to gain an FCS playoff berth from winning out the rest of the season, while the Aggies will just play for pride.
Dzubnar, one of the team captains, knows no team can be taken for granted, regardless of its record. He acknowledged that the strengths for the Aggies are in the offensive line and their powerful senior running back, Gabe Manzanares.
A cause for concern is the health of the Mustangs, especially this late in the season. When asked about injury concerns, Coach Walsh jokingly responded, “Well, how much time do you have?”
Junior quarterback Chris Brown rushed the ball 39 times last game, an astonishing amount. Many times, Brown came up hobbling and grimacing in pain. Walsh said he would be getting plenty of rest this week and that he will be ready to go on Saturday; however, the trainers described it by saying, “It’s like he was in a car accident.”
Despite injury concerns and a critical loss at the hands of Idaho State, Walsh and the Mustangs are focusing on the renewed rivalry with the Aggies.
“In my opinion, college football is the most important thing,” Walsh said. “We need to play a great game, whether we’re playing UC Davis or Sacramento State this weekend. We need to win.”
The Battle for the Golden Horseshoe is set to begin at 6:05 p.m on Nov. 15 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.