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Cal Poly makes football playoffs

Cal Poly has earned its fourth Division I FCS Football playoff berth and will host San Diego on Saturday at 4 p.m. inside Alex G. Spanos Stadium.

The announcement was made Sunday morning on ESPNU.

The Mustangs defeated the Toreros 38-16 in the second week of the season, also at Alex G. Spanos Stadium, and have played San Diego four times in the last five years, winning all four. Cal Poly also beat San Diego 36-14 in the series opener back in 1959.

“I like the matchup, but it will be a difficult one for us,” said eighth-year Mustang head coach Tim Walsh. “They like to throw the ball and we have not been extremely successful in defending the pass.

“They are extremely well coached and I have thought that every time we have played them,” Walsh added. “We have to take care of what we can take care of.”

While the Mustangs finished 7-4 overall and tied for fourth place in the Big Sky Conference following their 55-48 win over Northern Colorado on Saturday, the Toreros posted a 9-1 mark and won the Pioneer League title with an 8-0 record, defeating Campbell 57-21 on Saturday.

San Diego, which has won or shared eight Pioneer League championships, is in the FCS playoffs for the second time in the last three years.

Cal Poly competed in the FCS playoffs in 2005, 2008 and 2012. The Mustangs advanced to the second round in 2005 with a win at Montana and received a first-round bye in 2012 before falling at Sam Houston State 18-16.

The Mustangs have hosted one FCS playoff game in the past, falling 49-35 to Weber State in the opening round of the 2008 playoffs.

Cal Poly jumped to a 6-2 start with quality wins over Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champion and automatic qualifier South Dakota State and Montana plus an overtime loss at Football Bowl Subdivision member Nevada, but the Mustangs may have thought they played their way out of the playoffs with back-to-back losses to Eastern Washington and Weber State earlier this month.

“If I am shocked about anything, it’s the fact we’re playing at home after those two losses,” admitted Walsh. “What really helped us was the win over South Dakota State. I am excited to be home. The players won’t be able to go home for Thanksgiving, but we will make plans for them.

“I think we were an underestimated team from the get go,” Walsh added. “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 were not ranked in the top 25 of the STATS Inc. media or FCS Coaches polls until after the win over Montana in Week 4 when they were 3-1. They have remained in the top 25 for eight weeks with updated polls to be released Monday.

Nine Mustangs were redshirts on the 2012 team that qualified for the playoffs. That group, now seniors, includes rush linebacker Josh Letuligasenoa, wide receiver Carson McMurtrey, slot back Kori Garcia, middle linebacker Joseph Gigantino III, offensive linemen Matt Fisher, Billy Shipman II and Nick Enriquez, defensive tackle Marcus Paige-Allen and defensive end Kelly Shepard.

“This is a pretty special accomplishment for the seniors who have been here for five years,” said Walsh. “And the good news is that they won’t have to practice at 6 a.m. this week (due to the week-long Thanksgiving break). We will be a well-rested football team on Saturday.

The Cal Poly vs. San Diego winner will travel to face top-seeded and five-time FCS national champion North Dakota State (10-1) on Dec. 3.

Eight teams received first-round byes. The No. 1 Bison are making their seventh straight and overall appearance in the championship.

Eastern Washington (10-1) is the No. 2 seed after capturing the automatic qualifying berth from the Big Sky Conference. The Eagles, the 2010 champion, are making their 12th appearance in the championship.

Jacksonville State (10-1) is the number three seed after capturing the Ohio Valley Conference automatic berth. The Gamecocks, 2016 national finalist, are making their fourth straight and seventh overall appearance in the championship.

No. 4 seed James Madison (10-1) is followed by Southland Conference champion Sam Houston State (11-0), The Citadel (10-1), Big Sky co-champion North Dakota (9-2) and South Dakota State (8-3).

The 2016 championship field consists of 10 automatic qualifiers and 14 at-large qualifiers. All first- and second-round games will be broadcast on ESPN3.

Story courtesy of Cal Poly media relations.

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