Last year, a 1-8 UC Davis marched into San Luis Obispo and upset playoff contender Cal Poly 42-35 in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe.
The Mustangs weren’t about to let it happen again on Saturday at Aggie Stadium, even when the Aggies, down by 20 points at the half, climbed to within three points of Cal Poly early in the fourth quarter, an emotional turnaround sparked by two fumble recoveries.
But other than its own miscues, there was no stopping Cal Poly, quarterback Chris Brown or his team’s efficient and sometimes explosive triple-option offense. The Mustangs (4-6, 3-4) rolled up 669 total yards and never punted in posting a 55-38 win over the Aggies (1-9, 1-6) in front of an announced crowd of 6,197.
Cal Poly, the Football Championship Subdivison national rushing leader, scored on eight of 11 possessions. All eight were of at least 64 yards or longer, including mammoth, clock-churning 99-yarder in the second quarter.
Brown, a senior, rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown, caught a 30-yard touchdown pass on a trick play, and passed for 153 yards on 6 of 9 passing and three touchdowns, all to Willie Tucker, the former Oak Ridge High School standout.
But a strong performance by redshirt freshman C.J. Spencer, making only his second start in subbing for the injured Ben Scott, kept the Aggies in the game most of the way. The former Inderkum High School product completed 25 of 37 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Alex Cannon had a career-high six catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Manusamoa Luuga rushed for 83 yards and two touchdowns, and Joshua Kelley ran for 83 yards and a score. The Aggies had 506 total yards and did not commit a turnover.
Cal Poly led 41-21 with 8:53 to play in the third quarter when the Aggies reeled off three consecutive scores.
It stared with Brady Stuart’s 33-yard field goal, then the Aggies defense forced back-to-back fumbles that Spencer and Luugu turned into touchdown plays.
After Luuga forced a fumble and Patrick Wells recovered on the ensuing kickoff at the Cal Poly 23, Spencer completed an eight-yard pass to Derek Baljeu, then survived a frontal blast by Cal Poly 275-pound defensive lineman Jason Patterson to stay on his feet and complete a 15-yard scoring strike to Nolan Tooley with 1:53 to play in the third quarter.
“I have to give a shout-out to coach (John Krasinski), my strength and conditioning coach for keeping me strong,” Spencer said. “I was able to keep my center of gravity and make the play.”
Brandon Weaver opened the fourth quarter for the Aggies by forcing Joe Protheroe to fumble after he gained nine yards. Darryl Graham recovered at the UCD 37. Three plays later, Luuga broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run as UCD closed to 41-38 with 14:01 to play. It was the longest rush this season for an Aggie.
But Cal Poly used a 10-play, 90-yard drive that ate up 3:48 and a 13-play, 79-yard drive that used up 5:02 more to end any UCD upset hopes and close to 20-19-1 in the series.
“The kids, they never quit,” said UCD coach Ron Gould. “We just didn’t score enough points. That’s what I told the guys. We knew we were playing a high-powered offense and run game, and you have to score points. … But I love the way the kids responded.”
Graham, his left forearm bandaged because of nasty gash, said Cal Poly’s deception-based triple option, which compiled 486 rushing yards, was a huge challenge to try to overcome.
“It’s really difficult to adapt to in one week,” said Graham, who led the Aggies with 14 tackles. “Even though we get a good look from our scout team, it’s nowhere near the pace that Cal Poly runs it.”
UCD will close out the season next Saturday at rival Sacramento State in the 62nd Causeway Classic. The 2-8 Hornets, who lost 49-35 to Northern Arizona on Saturday, also are having a tough year.