For placekicker Andrew Gardner, history seemed doomed to repeat itself barely two and a half months after his devastating missed kick against Montana. Mustang Daily File Photo
For placekicker Andrew Gardner, history seemed doomed to repeat itself barely two and a half months after his devastating missed kick against Montana. Mustang Daily File Photo

Since its first game in 1915, the Cal Poly Mustang football team has had its ups and downs. The team has smashed challengers at home, been victorious in last-second plays and been doubted, mocked and then praised. These are our picks of the top five football games of the past few years, both good and bad.

5. The Triple Win
Cal Poly vs. UC Davis. Nov. 16, 2008 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium
While beating the Aggies 51-28 is certainly something to boast about, the reason this game has become so memorable is because not only did they win the annual Golden Horseshoe Classic and defeat the Aggies at home for the first time in 12 years, but it was also their third Great West Conference championship title.
“It was exciting to beat UC Davis at home,” senior strong safety David Fullerton said. “Our goal was to win the conference title and we checked it off because we did it.”
Offensively, the Mustangs had 522 total yards to the Aggies’ 427, and quarterback Jonathan Dally rushed for 173 yards. Defensively, the team scored big. Cornerback Asa Jackson had seven tackles and linebacker Carlton Gillespie and defensive end Ryan Shotwell each earned a sack. In the final score of the game, Fullerton intercepted a thrown-away pass for a 38-yard touchdown by the Davis quarterback who tried to elude a sack. The interception was his fourth of the season.
“It was a real defensive play. I was in the right spot at the right time,” Fullerton said.
What makes the game so memorable for Fullerton, however, was not the interception, but seeing the fans in the stands singing the fight song and winning his first conference title with the Mustangs. “We were going crazy,” he said. “It felt good to hoist the trophy up. It was a team effort throughout the entire game.”
4. The Heartbreaker
Cal Poly vs. Montana. Sept. 6, 2008 at Alex G. Spanos Stadium
Coming off a great upset against San Diego State a week prior, the Mustangs were ready to deliver against the Grizzlies. But when placekicker Andrew Gardner missed a 27-yard last-minute field goal that could have clinched it, the Mustangs lost to Montana 30-28 in front of approximately 10,000 fans. Former quarterback Jonathan Dally doesn’t think it’s fair to pin the game on Gardner.
“After it happened it was like ‘did that just happen? Did we just lose?’ (But) we were all kind of shocked by our performance,” he said. “We knew where we messed up (but) we had to be mature about it and come back next week and start our season over.”
Even though this game is most memorable for the missed kick with seconds remaining, other members of the team struggled as well. Fullerton (who had inherited punting duties that year) had his first punt blocked seconds into the first quarter at about the 34-yard line only to see it turned into a touchdown by an untouched Montana wide receiver. Dally struggled as well in the fourth quarter when he was tackled and ultimately fumbled the ball at the Cal Poly 3-yard line, resulting in a safety for Montana and a touchdown three minutes later.
But the game wasn’t all bad for the Mustangs. Dally managed to split the defense for a touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Ramses Barden at the 20-yard line in the first and again for a touchdown pass in the second. He also completed 16 of 23 passes and aided Barden in breaking the Cal Poly touchdown record with 35. Defensive ends Ryan Shotwell and Sean Lawyer also had a great game. Shotwell had a season-high seven tackles and not only was Lawyer named the Great West Defensive Player of the Week (a rarity considering his team had just lost), but he also recorded 2.5 sacks and 11 tackles.
“Sean Lawyer is a beast,” Fullerton said with laughter. “He’s probably one of the best D-liners we’ve ever had.”
In spite of the longstanding rivalry with Montana, Fullerton can still acknowledge a good team when he sees one and didn’t let the 2008 loss affect the rest of the season.
“To be where you want to be in AA football, you gotta go through Montana,” he said.
3. The Aztec Upset
Cal Poly vs. San Diego State Aug. 30, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
In the opening game of the 2008 season, the Mustang football team beat the San Diego Aztecs with a last-second 21-yard field goal by Gardner to end the game 29-27. The game was a surprising upset, because the Football Bowl Subdivision Aztecs were heavily favored. Dally said winning the game at Qualcomm Stadium with a last-second field goal seemed straight out of a movie.
“You look up and you’re surrounded by bleachers and whether they’re filled or not, it’s kind of overwhelming,” he said. “It brings that energy like ‘alright, we gotta show the world we can play on this stage.’ It was definitely where we felt like we wanted to be.”
Capitalizing on four turnovers by the Aztecs in the first half alone, the Mustangs were able to take an early 16-7 lead by accumulating 101 yards on the ground. With a forced fumble caused by defensive lineman James Chen, linebacker Carlton Gillespie was able to recover, and Cal Poly scored again four plays later when Ryan Mole ran the ball in for the touchdown. In fact, it wasn’t until the second quarter that the Aztecs even made it onto the scoreboard and they never led until 6:51 left in the game when they scored a five-yard rushing touchdown. They failed to gain the extra point with a two-point conversion, leaving them with a mere one-point lead. The Mustangs were able to set up the field goal by a 33-yard drive to the Aztec 4-yard line with completion passes to Barden.
“It was a really exciting game,” Gillespie said. “It was the first game of the season so it kind of had to set the tone.”
While the Aztecs led the Mustangs in number of downs (21-23), the Mustangs dominated in total yards with 483 to San Diego’s 379. The Mustang held the ball 16 minutes longer than the Aztecs. Defensively, the Cal Poly football team came out on top as well. Leading the team in tackles, linebacker Fred Hives II had 10 with fellow linebacker Marty Mohamed trailing closely behind with eight. In addition to his forced fumble, Chen (who was out most of the 2007 season due to an injury) also recorded a sack and a fumble recovery.
2. The Comeback Kids
Cal Poly vs. Montana Nov. 26, 2005 at Washington-Grizzly Stadium in Missoula, MT
Still feeling the pain from a 36-27 loss to the Grizzlies in the regular season, the Mustangs faced Montana again in the first round of playoffs and beat them for the first time in 11 years in a 35-21 upset. Former linebacker and 2006 Buck Buchanan award winner Kyle Shotwell (now a defensive assistant coach for the Mustangs) said the team knew they were the underdogs going into the game.
“(The game) was a big deal because it was the playoffs and we hadn’t beaten Montana before. It was a cold-weather game and a lot of people didn’t think we could win because we were California kids and we went out there and put it to them,” he said. “We came in really strong and we didn’t let off the gas.”
Defensively, the Mustangs put up a fight. Recording seven sacks as a unit, 2005 Buck Buchanan award winner Chris Gocong put up three, and safety Kenny Chicoine made one pick. Offensively, the team did just as well by leading the Grizzlies in possession 38:44 to 21:16 and by almost doubling the Montana’s total yards in the game (423-261). Running back James Noble also had a great game with 41 carries for 188 yards and four touchdowns. Shotwell said that going into the game, the team was prepared partly because they had already faced them.
“We had them figured out. We knew who they were and how they were going to attack us,” he said, “and we were able to play really well.”
But for Shotwell, it’s not any specific play, tackle or sack made by one of his teammates that he remembers the most. In fact, for him, the most memorable aspect of that game is what happened after they won.
“I remember just at the end of the game celebrating with the team and singing our fight song in front of the fans,” he said. “It was definitely an awesome experience. That is one of my fondest memories from college, no doubt.”
1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Cal Poly vs. Wisconsin Nov. 22, 2008 at Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisc.
For placekicker Andrew Gardner, history seemed doomed to repeat itself barely two and a half months after his devastating missed kick against Montana. Having already missed two in the game, Gardner’s third missed the extra point following Barden’s touchdown in overtime, resulting in the Mustang’s first on the road loss of the season with the Badgers winning 36-35. Gardner received extreme scrutiny after the loss, and Dally said Gardner put a lot of that harsh critique on himself.
“No matter what, he’s going to be his biggest critic. From the team environment, it was unfair how people were coming down on him. It’s kind of sad that he let that get to him and stopped playing collegiate football,” Dally said. “We didn’t console him as a team, which kind of broke his spirit but at the time we had to kind of move on. We had to show him through our work ethic that it was time to step up and do our job. You’re kind of more concerned for him as a person than a player.”
Battling a physically bigger team, Cal Poly jumped onto the scoreboard in the first 21 minutes of the game with a 13-0 lead over the Badgers. The initial touchdown came from a forced fumble by Jackson, allowing the team to gain 60 yards in 11 plays. The game was a see-saw battle until Wisconsin forced the game into overtime with a last-minute 3-yard touchdown run by running back P.J. Hill. In total, the Mustangs had possession of the ball for almost 40 minutes, scored 35 points against a team that generally allows no more than 26 and gained 95 yards thanks to passing and 276 yards on the ground.
Despite the 32-degree weather and 10-mph winds, the Mustangs still managed to pull out a well-played game against a team that many expected to trample them. A FBS team, the Badgers never led in the game until they finally won in overtime and were actually mocked by a Big Ten Network analyst for over-celebrating. The analyst compared their excitement to beating Ohio State in order to get into the Rose Bowl, not beating a Football Championship Subdivision team that students and the media expected to get destroyed.
“In actuality, we were the better team that day. We were playing harder, we controlled the game and gave ourselves every opportunity to win,” Dally said. “After that game, we were so distraught that we couldn’t pick ourselves up after the first round. It was so emotionally draining that yeah we played good, but it wasn’t enough.”
In the weeks preceding the game, the Madison newspaper, The Capital Times, ran numerous articles bashing the Mustangs, mocking Cal Poly’s reputation as a high-ranking engineering school. What makes this game so significant in Mustang history is not Gardner’s missed field goal (except for some who can’t seem to let it go), but rather that it showed the nation what our football team is capable of. We’re labeled as a FCS football team, yet we were able to give a FBS team a run for their money and gain the respect of fans and residents of the Wisconsin area. Following the loss, the Mustang Daily editor received an e-mail from a Wisconsin resident who praised the team’s offense, teamwork and execution.
“Your coach, your team … should forever remember that game as an outstanding display of college football,” Douglas Alexander wrote. “You should have won that game. Congratulations to you. You have a fan in Wisconsin.”
Dally said being positively acknowledged by Wisconsin fans and the media was exactly what the team had set out to prove.
“We wanted to prove to the fans, to the media, that a prestigious Big Ten team isn’t as big as they think it is. Toward the end of the season when you can play as a team, the level of competition isn’t as big as they perceive it,” he said. “We felt like we should have won that game, and to prove some people wrong in the process was exactly what we wanted to prove.”

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