Cal Poly’s Kori Garcia could’ve stepped out of bounds after his 35-yard run in a 59-47 win over Sacramento State, but instead chose to stampede over defenders at Hornet Stadium.
This run by the senior slotback encapsulated No. 14 ranked Cal Poly’s (6-2, 4-1 Big Sky) intentions against the struggling Sac State (1-8, 1-5 Big Sky) football team which gave up a season-high 527 rushing yards in its fourth straight loss of the season.
“That’s how we play,” Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said. “Kori does not like the sideline, if he can get three more yards by finishing the run, he’s going to finish it. We preach it and that’s who we are.”
It’s no wonder the Mustangs — who are 20-16 all-time against Sac State — entered the game as the second-ranked rushing (347.9 per game) team in the Football Championship Subdivision. This is thanks to a triple-option rushing attack which is led by junior fullback Joe Protheroe (25 carries for 168 yards and one touchdown) and Garcia (12 carries for 146 yards and one touchdown) to paydirt success.
“The thing that just continues to wreak havoc with us is (we) have to play consistent football or we give up explosive plays like you saw,” Sac State coach Jody Sears said after his team gave up nine plays of 20 yards or more to Cal Poly. “We’ve got to play consistently at a high level (and) we’ve got to fit in the right proper leverage, in the proper gap every single time because a team like this, you leave a crack open, boom there’s a 52-yard fullback on the dive and we’ve got one missed tackle and it’s out the gate.”
Cal Poly took advantage of the “cracks” in the Sac State defense early and often as Garcia went untouched for a 64-yard touchdown on the first offensive play from scrimmage for the Mustangs. However, the Hornets immediately responded with a 38-yard rushing touchdown from senior running back Jordan Robinson, who finished the night with 19 carries for 117 yards and two touchdowns, to tie the game 7-7.
The Mustangs took the lead right back as former Folsom High School quarterback and senior Dano Graves completed a four-yard touchdown to Protheroe. Sac State — which finished with a season-best 47 points — then answered with a 90-yard punt return touchdown by junior Isiah Hennie, and a 23-yard scoring pass from sophomore quarterback Nate Ketteringham to Hennie to take a 21-14 lead.
“This whole week of practice, we’ve been focused on making sure everyone does their job (and) we came in with a good game plan and we executed,” Hennie said after ending the night with six receptions for 116 yards and three total touchdowns. “That’s the difference between this week and the whole season is we just executed today.”
Unfortunately for Sac State, the defense failed to execute as Cal Poly scored 24 unanswered points to take a 38-21 lead into the fourth quarter. Graves, who finished 8 of 15 for 147 yards and three scores, led the brunt of this charge with touchdown passes to freshmen receivers J.J. Koski and Jake Smeltzer for 40 and 16 yards, respectively.
However, the night was far from over as Ketteringham sprinkled in three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to three different receivers (sophomore Jaelin Ratliff, Hennie and freshman Johnnie Rucker). But the Mustangs matched this step for step with three rushing touchdowns from juniors Kyle Lewis (54 yards), Reagan Enger (39 yards) and Jared Mohamed (47 yards).
“Anytime you run a triple option, you schematically understand what the defense is doing on the other side,” Graves said. “It took us awhile there to really understand what they were doing, but once you understand in the triple option — it’s just three different people who can get the ball at any time so we spread the ball around.”
Although Sac State kept the score close, Cal Poly was simply too much to handle as the Mustangs overlapped the Hornets in the time of possession battle 34:10 to 25:50.
Sac State is now forced to look for its second win of the season against Big Sky conference opponent Portland State on Nov. 12 at Hornet Stadium.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Sac State junior defensive lineman Ben Sorensen and sophomore defensive lineman George Obinna sacked Graves on back-to-back plays to begin the second quarter. The pair eventually combined for a joint sack on Graves in the next drive as well.
Hennie, who has two punt returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns in his career, tied a program record with a 90-yard punt return for a score after the pair of sacks from Sorensen and Obinna in the second quarter.
Ketteringham tied a career best with four touchdown passes — 16 of 29 for 236 yards and one interception — a week after being benched in favor of sophomore Nolan Merker against Northern Colorado.
Sophomore defensive back Manny Scott-Anderson led both teams with seven solo tackles and set a career high with 16 total tackles for the Hornets.
Sac State was outscored 21-0 in the third quarter.
Freshman kicker Jamie Medina missed a 39-yard field goal and an extra point attempt which would’ve eventually brought the score within a touchdown’s reach.
The Hornets allowed five rushing touchdowns — which is tied for a season worst — to five different rushers against the potent triple-option rushing attack of Cal Poly.
With only two games remaining on the schedule, Sac State is in danger of finishing with one victory for the first time since 1997 when the football program went 1-10 (1-7 Big Sky) for a second straight season.
Sac State gave up a season-high total of 527 rushing yards which is 105 yards more than the team allowed in its second worst run-defense performance (422) against North Dakota on Oct. 8.
On third down and 25 at the Cal Poly 44-yard line, the Hornets allowed Garcia to rush for a 35-yard first down where he finished his physical run by barreling over Scott-Anderson.
“They stick to what they know (and) smack you in the mouth and if you don’t answer then they’re going to run up the score like that,” Hennie said. “That’s just their identity as a team and it’s nothing but respect, it’s football so they come out here and play their brand of football and that’s why they ended up with the win.”
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