Cal Poly running back Mark Rodgers seems to be adjusting to his new team quite nicely.
The West Virginia transfer rushed for a career-high 235 yards on 15 carries to push the Mustangs (7-3, 2-1 Great West) past the South Dakota Coyotes (4-6, 1-3) Saturday night.
With the performance, Rodgers becomes the first Mustang to rush for more than 200 yards in five years. In his first year at Cal Poly, Rodgers boasts a team-high 817 rushing yards on the season — nearly double the next closest rusher.
At West Virginia, he didn’t see nearly as many touches. Rodgers was primarily used on special teams, averaging 22.9 yards per kick return. On the ground, he had a total of 89 yards in 2008 and 2009.
Now at Cal Poly, he has become an integral part in helping his new team make a playoff run and against South Dakota he provided the spark the Mustangs needed.
Cal Poly started the game at a 14-0 deficit. South Dakota’s Dante Warren connected with Will Powell twice, once from 21 yards out and again from 17 yards out, to give the Coyotes the two-score lead.
But then Cal Poly showed life, capping a 39-yard drive with fullback Jake Romanelli’s two-yard touchdown rush.
With the score at 17-10, Rodgers tied the game at 17-17 on a 44-yard touchdown run.
With the Mustangs threatening to take the lead, South Dakota snatched back the momentum, when South Dakota’s Dametri Turner picked off quarterback Tony Smith and took it back 40 yards for a touchdown.
Then Rodgers answered once again.
With the game deadlocked at 24-24, he broke free on a rush up the middle for 74 yards, putting the Mustangs ahead 31-24, and they didn’t let up.
Rodgers led the team with his 200-plus yard performance. With his outburst, he was tabbed a Great West Conference Player of the Week. Fullback Jordan Yocum was the closest rusher behind Rodgers with 62 yards. Romanelli also finished with 39 yards and two touchdowns.
As a team, the Mustangs combined for 379 yards on the ground, outgaining the Coyotes by 267 yards.
Through the air, quarterback Tony Smith went 2-12 for 41 yards. Take away running back Gabriel Umoh’s 34-yard reception and Smith only had 13 yards passing.
For the third-straight week, fellow quarterback Andre Broadous still seemed to be bothered by his shoulder injury as he did not play against South Dakota.
On the other side of the ball, defensive lineman Gavin Cooper tallied seven tackles and two sacks, earning Great West Conference Player of the Week honors as well.
With the win, the Mustangs keep their playoff chances alive. With a victory in the Golden Horseshoe Rivalry game, Cal Poly would put its record at 8-3 – the same record the Mustangs had the last time they made the playoffs in 2008. It could be enough to get them back to postseason play again.
Kickoff is set for 6:05 p.m. in Alex G. Spanos Stadium this Saturday.