Frank Stranzl

Frankly Speaking, a weekly sports column, touches on Cal Poly’s playoff game at Texas State.

Everything is bigger in Texas. The stereotype held true as the Mustangs battled the Bobcats in a quarterfinal football game in San Marcos, Texas.

Here’s a quick comparison of the Bobcats’ home field advantage to what you might see in San Luis Obispo: The pre-game entertainment was bigger, the band was bigger, the stadium was bigger, the fan-base was bigger and the team was bigger. Even the post-game celebration was bigger, as students stormed the field in droves, encircling their victorious players.

And, unfortunately for the Mustangs, bigger was better. The Bobcats stifled Cal Poly’s offense through much of the game and dominated on the offensive side of the ball winning 14-7.

Big as the Bobcats were and as dominant as they looked, Cal Poly still managed to keep the game close where it counts, on the scoreboard.

Bend but don’t break best described the Mustang defense on Saturday.

Texas State moved the ball at will against an exhausted, yet gritty Mustang defense. The Bobcats’ offense was on the field for about 20 minutes longer than Cal Poly’s. Chris Gocong and Co. paid the price.

“It just exhausted us,” the Buck Buchanan award front-runner said. “(Barrick) Nealy’s a great quarterback. He made the plays when he needed to and we just couldn’t get off the field.”

Texas State’s coach Bailiff and his players had nothing but respect for the Mustangs following the game.

“We came into this game knowing they were going to put a lot of pressure on us,” Nealy said. “We figured if we could get a body on a body we’d be fine – those guys are fast, man.”

First-team All-Southland Conference offensive lineman Thomas Keresztury said Cal Poly’s defensive line, “is probably the most athletic we’ve played this year,” high praise considering the Bobcats played Division I powerhouse Texas A & M earlier this season.

Looking forward to next year anybody?

Chris Gocong could be on his way to the NFL next season and Anthony Garnett also moves on. The Mustangs also lose notables Beau Finato, Courtney Brown, Matt Chachere, Tom Curiel, Jason Holmes and Aaron Williams.

Despite the losses, expect Cal Poly to be in the top 10 of most national polls to start the 2006 season.

On offense, James Noble will return for his sophomore season. The redshirt freshman was fourth in the nation in rushing this season, compiling 1,652 yards on 223 carries, an average of 7.1 yards per carry. Noble also finished the season with 16 touchdowns, nine of which came in back-to-back weeks at the hands of Idaho State and the University of Montana.

The Mustangs also return their leading receiver, 6-foot-6-inch Ramses Barden. Barden had 40 receptions and averaged 16.4 yards per catch to go along with nine touchdowns. In contrast, just two other Mustangs caught touchdown passes this season, each with one.

Matt Brennan, like Barden and Noble, will also return for his sophomore season in 2006. Brennan lead the Mustangs to a 4-2 record to finish the year. Brennan showed glimpses of stardom to come. He has speed and a strong arm and, with seasoning, should fit well into the Mustangs’ option style offense.

Returning defensively for the Mustangs will be linebacker Kyle Shotwell, Kenny Chicoine and Chris White.

Shotwell led the team in tackles with 158, recording 20 in the team’s finale at Texas State. Expect Shotwell to be on several pre-season awards lists, possibly becoming the third consecutive Mustang to notch a spot on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list. The award is given to the top defensive player in the nation each year.

Chicoine, a safety, was second on the team in interceptions with five and White, a nose guard, was second-best behind Gocong with 10.5 sacks.

The 2006 season holds plenty of promise for the Mustangs. The Div. I-AA playoffs haven’t heard the last from Cal Poly.

Where’s the love?

As I sat in the press box, which was notably also bigger and better than Mustang Stadium’s current accommodations, I wondered if the San Luis Obispo community was capable of putting on such a grandeur display.

Honestly, I think the answer is no. Texas State had a large-scale tailgate party with fraternities and sororities putting up tents and serving food. Students clad in maroon and gold filled a section designated for the mass-tailgate party prior to the game at Bobcat Stadium.

The opulent pre-game and halftime celebrations featured a well-choreographed band, a throng of “strutters,” and a color guard that was both in rhythm and working with the band. In other words, the Bobcats flat out had more to offer or topped what Cal Poly is currently capable of.

Not to mention the fan base. The stadium was much larger than Cal Poly’s and filled to capacity. In all fairness, a Texas State student told me that, before its first round game, which was televised nationally on ESPN2, the Bobcats weren’t close to selling out. In fact, the game against Cal Poly was the stadium’s first official sellout. Not to mention most of the festivities hinged on it being a nationally-televised playoff game.

I realize Mustang Stadium is on its way to better days, but had Cal Poly hosted the game and been seen before a national audience, it would have been flat out embarrassing. The school would have had to erect a press box in the week before the game in order to house the ESPN2 crew, let alone the other reporters sure to be in attendance.

Can you see Mustang Stadium, in its current state, on national television? Can you envision the student body working up enough school spirit to put together a massive tailgate party? I can’t, but hopefully as the prestige of the program grows, so too will the scale of the intangibles involved with college football.

Cal Poly needs more dedicated fans, fans willing to paint themselves green and gold or spell out “Gocong” on their chests. Where is the lavish halftime show at Cal Poly? How long is it going to take for the fans to support their athletics programs?

Cal Poly isn’t just an engineering campus – or is it? That question is for the reader to decide.

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