Cal Poly set to host San Diego again

(STATS) - San Diego's unbeaten run to the Pioneer Football League title came after it suffered its only defeat of the season. Unfortunately for the Toreros, the team that handed them that loss is their opponent in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

The 24th-ranked Toreros get another shot at No. 21 Cal Poly of the Big Sky on Saturday at Alex G. Spanos Stadium in San Luis Obispo as they take on a Mustangs team that has won each of the five meetings in the all-time series.

San Diego (9-1) opened the season with a 27-0 win over Division II Western New Mexico before visiting Cal Poly (7-4) the following week. The Mustangs outscored the Toreros 21-3 in the second half of a 38-16 win, their fourth in the series over the last five years by a combined score of 151-49.

The Toreros rolled through their eight PFL games, outscoring opponents 343-83 to earn the league's automatic bid to the playoffs for the second time in three years while winning at least a share of the PFL title for the eighth time in the past 12 seasons.

Cal Poly secured its fourth trip to the FCS playoffs and first since 2012 with a 55-48 win over Northern Colorado last weekend to finish 5-3 in the Big Sky. The Mustangs had dropped their previous two games.

"If I am shocked about anything, it's the fact we're playing at home after those two losses," coach Tim Walsh said. " ... I think we were an underestimated team from the get go. I knew we had a lot of good players returning from last year and that we'd be one of the 24 teams in the playoffs."

The Mustangs finished the regular season No. 1 in the FCS in rushing offense (360.6 yards per game), passing efficiency (183.86 rating) and third-down conversion percentage (54.8) while ranking sixth in total offense (496.5) and 14th in scoring offense (35.9 points per game).

"Cal Poly is one tough opponent with a unique offense that will be hard to get ready for," said San Diego's Dale Lindsey, a finalist for the STATS Eddie Robinson Award as FCS Coach of the Year. "It has been in the past. We don't choose how we get the draw so we are going to go up there and do the best that we can do."

Running back and All-Big Sky first-team selection Joe Protheroe was seventh in the FCS with 1,212 rushing yards while adding 11 touchdowns on the ground. Running back Kori Garcia (834 yards, six TDs), quarterback Dano Graves (684, nine) and running back Kyle Lewis (587, six) also contributed to Cal Poly's rushing attack. Lewis led the Mustangs with 372 receiving yards and four TD catches while Graves passed for 1,445 yards and 17 touchdowns to only four interceptions.

That offense will face a San Diego team that led the FCS in scoring defense (12.1), passing efficiency defense (84.36) and total defense (249.6) while finishing sixth in rushing defense (82.2). The Toreros are also strong on the other side of the ball, ranking fourth in third-down conversion percentage (52.8), seventh in passing efficiency (162.52), 10th in scoring offense (38.6) and 15th in total offense (452.2).

San Diego is led by quarterback Anthony Lawrence and running back Jonah Hodges. Lawrence finished third in the FCS in completion percentage (68.9) and fifth in passing efficiency (164.6) while throwing for 2,515 yards and 22 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Hodges was ninth with 1,190 rushing yards and fifth with 17 total TDs.

"I like the matchup, but it will be a difficult one for us," Walsh said. "They like to throw the ball and we have not been extremely successful in defending the pass (the Mustangs ranked 109th in the FCS with 269.1 passing yards allowed per game). They are extremely well-coached and I have thought that every time we have played them. We have to take care of what we can take care of."

The winner of this matchup will visit top-seeded and five-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State in the second round on Dec. 3.

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