Before Cal Poly took the field against Weber State on Saturday, the program honored 20 seniors who walked with their loved ones.
The evening marked the end of an era for Cal Poly Football. For many of the players graduating, their college football careers and lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The pandemic impacted player and team development across all sports at Cal Poly, which led to growing pains for many programs, including football, coming out of 2020. The team has only managed four wins since the pandemic (albeit the school canceled most of the 2020-2021 Spring season).
However, Wulff added the senior class helped “pave the way through hard times.”
“A lot of these veteran players have been through some hard times to reinvigorate and change the program overall,” Wulff said. “They’ve done that. There are clearly brighter days ahead.”
Wulff was correct in the metaphorical and literal sense. Rain sporadically pattered the turf at Mustang Memorial Field on a gloomy day. At the same time, the Mustangs do have brighter days ahead. There is a sense of direction with the program under a new offense led by quarterback Sam Huard and offensive coordinator Sheldon Cross and a talented defense looking for consistency.
Throughout the season, the Mustangs showed bursts of keeping up with highly-touted FCS programs from Montana State to Sacramento State. Although the team has ways to go in terms of consistency, the talent deficit has shrunk tremendously compared to years prior.
“We’re going to be a part of doing something different,” Wulff said. “We’re going to change Cal Poly football.”
Mustangs start off strong but can’t overcome Weber State
The Mustangs couldn’t pull out a season finale win against Weber State and fell 48-21 to the Wildcats. The program closes out the season with a 3-8 record and a 1-6 record in Big Sky play.
The entire team reined in their energy and excitement by kickoff and completed the first quarter with control. The offense diced up the Weber State defense with back-to-back touchdown drives.
Huard found linebacker-turned-tight end redshirt sophomore Michael Otterstedt on a rollout to the right side for a 22-yard strike.
Senior wide receiver Dominique Thompson made his last few moments in the Cal Poly uniform special by hauling in two touchdown passes.
“I know the plays, I trust my team, and I have confidence about making plays,” Thomspon said.
Inconsistency haunted the Mustangs again. The team went scoreless in the second quarter while allowing two field goals. In the third and fourth quarter, the Wildcats put up 28 points, and the Mustangs could only manage a touchdown in the waning minutes of the game when backup quarterback Spencer Brasch found Thompson.
“It’s not going to be easy,” Wulff said. “It’s going to be a lot of work. We’re going to come out stronger on the other end.”
Despite their struggles, Cal Poly’s football team had made leaps and bounds this year, setting new program records and making notable plays.
One athlete who majorly contributed to the team’s success this year was junior wide receiver Giancarlo Woods, who became the 13th player in program history to receive three touchdowns in a single game.
Huard made his impact felt in his first year with the Mustangs. The University of Washington transfer shattered the single-game completion record with 37 completed throws in a game.
His mark of 2,247 passing yards is the sixth-highest in Cal Poly history and the largest amount since Seth Buford’s record of 2,672 yards in 2002. Most importantly, in Huard’s first season as a starting quarterback, he showed the ceiling of the Air Raid offense in a conference dominated by the run game.
Following the conclusion of the 2023 season, the Mustangs have a semblance of direction and brighter days ahead.