The physical and emotional pain left over from Saturday’s heartbreaking overtime loss at Montana followed the Cal Poly football team into practice this week.
The Mustangs are hoping those wounds can be mended in short order.
Their championship aspirations and postseason hopes rest on how well they can get over a 21-14 defeat that turned sour after a potential game-clinching field goal was blocked in the final minutes at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“Overall for the team, it was pretty tough because we had a great feeling going into that place,” Mustangs senior tackle Giovanni Sani said. “We were feeling really confident and ready to play, and to play the way we did and to just look at the film and see one thing here, one thing there short — coulda, woulda, shoulda — it’s tough.
“The only thing you can do now is to work on the next week. Dwelling on the past is not going to be productive.”
There are also some minor injuries left to heal. Starting quarterback Dano Graves re-aggravated an ankle sprain suffered earlier in the season as Cal Poly tried to rally for a score late in the first half against the Grizzlies.
Graves was taking first-team reps at Tuesday’s practice, but another key player in the Mustangs’ option offense was not.
Junior slotback Kristaan Ivory, the second-leading rusher in the Big Sky Conference with 805 yards and six touchdowns, did not participate but is expected to play Saturday against visiting Northern Arizona at 6 p.m. at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
Ivory said he, too, sprained his ankle late in the first half against Montana, and, like Graves, he played the rest of the game, finishing with a game-high 121 rushing yards on 22 carries and a game-high six catches for 36 yards.
Ivory had his right foot in a walking boot at the Sports Complex on Tuesday, but Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said it was just a precaution.
“He’ll play,” Walsh said, “but we’re not going to make him go out there and run on it and make it worse so that he has to limp around Saturday night. We’re going to get him as fresh as we can.”
The Mustangs will likely need Ivory in a matchup of the top rushers in the Big Sky. Northern Arizona (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) is led by senior running back Zach Bauman, a shoo-in to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his four collegiate seasons.
Bauman overtook Ivory on the conference leaderboard with 266 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 39-30 victory over Idaho State this past week and now has 884 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
“I guess that means we both run the ball a lot,” Ivory said. “So, our rush defense is going to come to play, and after this game, they’ll help me be the top leading rusher.
“I try not to look into all that stuff. There’s a lot of good running backs in the Big Sky. I’m just focusing on trying to get the win.”
Winning might have to be all that’s left for Cal Poly (3-4, 2-1 Big Sky) in pursuit of its goals of a second straight Big Sky title and playoff berth.
The Mustangs could need to win the final five games of the regular season to stay in contention. A Nov. 16 game against No. 3 Eastern Washington (5-2, 3-0 Big Sky) might be the only forgiveable loss left on the schedule in the eyes of those who make up postseason selection committees and top-25 polls, but winning that one might not be enough if No. 5 Montana State (5-2, 3-0 Big Sky) can make an undefeated run through the conference.
The playoffs might have already begun for Cal Poly. How they turn out depends on the Mustangs’ response to a close-but-no-cigar loss.
“In reality, I feel like our guys down deep feel like they played well enough to win a football game,” Walsh said of the loss to Montana. “We’ve got to use it as a positive. We’ve got to learn from it and move on, and when you have good opponents beaten, you’ve got to beat them.”