Just your average trip to a Cal Poly football game – or was it?
This story has all the makings of the greatest tale ever told – a boy’s dreams come crashing down, but some quick thinking and a wacky plan add some comic relief before the boy conquers an arch-enemy and becomes a man. Laughs and tears, a team that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat and nine people crammed in a Dodge Neon. What more could you ask for?
The journey began at halftime on the lawn outside the business building. Some track teammates and I had just finished cleanup duties from the pre-game barbecue – track athletes have to work at least one barbecue to help raise money for the program – and the freshmen ditched us.
Three seniors, a junior and a sophomore, were left to watch the game themselves. We were downright angry, livid even.
As soon as our coach gave us reprieve, we charged toward the entrance, passing numerous fans watching the game from a lawn outside the stadium. I looked at them, then I looked to the front entrance and there it was, the line from hell.
A few dozen anxious and frustrated students stood between us and the game. At first we thought we were doomed – I stood in line with my roommate hoping that halftime would mean people leaving.
The end of the line seemed literally to be the end of the line for our quest to see this Cal Poly football game. Our dreams were shattered, our hopes cast asunder as tears swelled up in our eyes. Then came the phone call.
“Hey Frank, we’re hopping the fence. Get over here quick!”
A glint of hope kept the tears at bay as we bolted at a sort of fast walk-jog-like pace for our gateway to destiny.
We arrived at the back of the scoreboard and all that stood in our way was a measly chain link fence. My disdain for climbing anything chain-linked dates back to the fourth grade when my baseball coach warned me not to climb that fence. He told me, “Frank, if you climb that fence, you might fall and break a bone.”
His words echoed in my head as I climbed to the top, swung my legs over and jumped. My body cleared that fence, but it was my shoelace that did me in. I fractured my wrist – coaches sure are smart.
Back to the story at hand.
As I climbed this fence I actually didn’t even think about that freakish childhood incident.
I climbed to the top, swung my legs over and jumped, but my jean pocket caught in the fence and I plummeted to the ground. Older and wiser, I landed on my feet this time.
We strolled out from behind the bleachers to find some seats saved for us by a few teammates who didn’t have to hop a fence to get in. Wait, what’s this? We’re losing 7-3 at the half against Southern Utah?
I heard some vagrant boos after SUU blocked a Nick Coromelas punt and picked it up for a touchdown – by the way, he’s also our placekicker. The real punter is injured.
Thunderbirds 14, Mustangs 3. Who’s the No. 5 team in the nation? Prepare yourselves for the dramatic climax.
If we’ve learned anything from movies like “Remember the Titans,” “Waterboy,” “The Longest Yard” and, well, just about every football movie except “Friday Night Lights,” it’s that there are always late-game heroics in these types of stories.
First Mark Cordes dove on a Southern Utah fumble and quarterback Matt Brennan connected with the speedy Tredale Tolver for a 38-yard touchdown.
Chalk up a two-point conversion pass to Jon Hall and the Mustangs were suddenly down 14-11 with 12 minutes, 8 seconds remaining.
Then came “The Play.”
Southern Utah knew who Brennan was targeting with a second-and-eight pass from the Thunderbirds’ 19-yard line – Barden.
Three defenders flocked to cover the 6-foot, 6-inch Barden as he slanted into the end zone. The ball hit his hands and flew into the air as a collective sigh hit the crowd.
The ball caromed off a defender and right back into Barden’s hands.
Cal Poly 18, Southern Utah 14.
Cal Poly is the No. 5 team in the nation and Southern Utah rode the Mustangs to the finish, but maybe middle linebacker Kyle Shotwell was right as he celebrated on his way out of the stadium.
“This is our season,” he said repeatedly. That’s yet to be seen, but if Cal Poly shores up that offense, it’s a realistic possibility.