SAN DIEGO – It was definitely worth the trip.
One week after a Homecoming meltdown against South Dakota State, the Cal Poly football team spoiled San Diego State’s Homecoming on Saturday night with a 16-14 victory.
When the Mustangs needed a win to regain momentum and revive their playoff hopes, they did it against a Division I-A team in front of 20,974 fans at Qualcomm Stadium.
Having hosted three Super Bowls and serving as the home of the Chargers, Qualcomm lived up to its billing. At least Cal Poly fans seemed to enjoy it.
In the stadium parking lot more than two hours before kickoff, several Cal Poly tailgate areas were already set up, surrounded by individuals in green Mustang Maniacs T-shirts tossing footballs back and forth.
Then the Mustang Marching Band came.
All things considered, Cal Poly had almost as much presence in terms of crowd noise as San Diego State, even with the cannons that blasted after the Aztecs scored a touchdown.
On the exterior, it felt something like a home game 400 miles away from Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Nonetheless, playing in an NFL stadium one week before their biggest road game of the season might prove hugely beneficial to the Mustangs.
Cal Poly, after all, travels to No. 2 Montana this week. The Grizzlies play at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, which has seated as many as 23,867 fans in the past. The Mustangs then visit No. 5 North Dakota State in a game that will likely determine the Great West Football Conference title.
“That’s all that’s left,” Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson said of playing in hostile environments. “That’s all we have to look forward to, is games like that, opponents like that, difficult stadiums. That’s all we’ve got in front of us. It’s good that we know what it takes to be successful there.”
One of those in attendance Saturday was Chargers receiver and special teams standout Kassim Osgood, who set single-season Cal Poly records for receptions (84) and receiving yards (1,394) in 2000. He transferred to San Diego State for personal reasons in 2002.
“They’ve really turned it around within a matter of a couple of years,” Osgood told The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Coach Ellerson has done a really good job up there. We had a couple of bad seasons when I was there, but when (Ellerson) got there they changed everything. The whole atmosphere of the program changed – how they practiced, what time they practiced, offense changed, defense changed. They’re bringing a big college atmosphere to it.”
A big college atmosphere that has resulted in two wins over Division I-A teams in the past four seasons, the school’s first I-AA playoff appearance and win in 2005 and the expansion of Alex G. Spanos Stadium this season.
Roughly an hour after the final gun, when several stadium crew members began preparing Qualcomm for the Chargers game Sunday, the cheers and horns honking of those several hundred Cal Poly fans could still be heard from the parking lot.
The Mustangs enjoyed Homecoming, all right. It just came a week later than expected.