There was a little small talk here and there.
What homework was left from the first week of classes was getting polished off as a movie played in the background.
Some simply put on their headphones and went to sleep.
The scene on the Cal Poly football team’s buses was as somber as expected after a 38-35 last-minute loss at Northern Arizona on Saturday. With 615 miles to drive overnight between Flagstaff, Ariz., and San Luis Obispo and more than 10 captive hours to stew on the outcome, there weren’t many productive ways to spend the time.
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“After a game like that I don’t believe so,” senior fullback Brandon Howe said Tuesday, “because we were all down and a little disappointed in the outcome of that game. We really thought we had it, and losing in the last minute of the game was definitely heartbreaking.”
Cal Poly (1-3, 0-1 Big Sky Conference) was so close to putting an 0-2 start to the season completely behind it with a victory over the Lumberjacks at Walkup Skydome before the offense failed to get a needed first down late in the fourth quarter and the defense gave up the game-winning touchdown pass with 21 seconds left.
Suddenly, the thought of starting 1-0 in the Big Sky and keeping pace for a conference title was replaced by a devastating loss and nothing but hours and hours of open road to reflect before returning home for this Saturday’s game against visiting Southern Utah (1-4, 1-0).
Mustangs head coach Tim Walsh said he decided to bus the team to and from Northern Arizona so the program could use the money saved to charter a flight for a road trip to Idaho State in Pocatello, Idaho, later this season.
Cal Poly has made such driving trips before, but that does little to quell the emotions.
“Any time you lose, I don’t think there’s a lot of energy surrounding it,” Walsh said. “I think we said what we had to say in the locker room. Then it was get on the bus and get as much rest as you could possibly get on the way home.
“... Our players handled it, and they actually handled the ride home. As grumpy and beat up and sore as you are after a football game that you don’t win and you lose in the last 21 seconds, our players handled the entire trip with class and the way that they should have. And they came back with the mentality that the best thing you could do after something like that is to get back to work.”
The Mustangs coaches set that example. Walsh said the staff had downloaded all the necessary video to prepare for this week’s visit from the Thunderbirds and digested it all during the ride home.
While the team returned home with the sunrise, Walsh said the coaches immediately put in a nine-hour work day Sunday to prepare the gam plan against Southern Utah.
The seniors, said Howe, who ran for 76 yards and a touchdown at Northern Arizona, got together Monday and talked about what was needed to turn the season around.
“We’re getting closer to playing four total quarters of football,” Howe said, “and we haven’t been doing that, but we’re getting closer and closer, and I really think that is the reason for our record so far.”
The one player not on the bus ride home was redshirt freshman left guard Ross Berry. The Templeton High product remained in Flagstaff on Tuesday after suffering a fractured leg early in the second half of what was his first collegiate start.
Berry is expected to travel home today, but he won’t be seeing the field anytime soon.
“It’ll be a while,” Walsh said. “I’ve got a feeling that it’s going to be a pretty extended rehabilitation for him, but he’s the type of young man that will work hard an do all the things necessary to being Ross Berry.
“The number one thing that drives him, he’s a great young man, period. If we can get him back to being the football player that he was becoming, then that would be a great thing for him and for us.”