OGDEN, Utah — The Cal Poly football season ended with a 47-14 loss at Weber State on Saturday, a game that sealed a couple notable lows for the program.
Yet, really, it was only the second game where the Mustangs really felt like they were out of it early on.
Despite a rash of injuries that decimated the offensive line and had almost every skill player missing time at some point this season, Cal Poly (4-7) had chances to win late against San Jose State, Montana and South Dakota and held halftime leads over North Dakota and UC Davis.
In a season clearly labeled transitional with the loss of the best collection of quarterback, receivers and running backs that the school has ever had — not to mention an influx of new coaches teaching a completely different defensive scheme — the Mustangs still felt like they should have won more.
“It’s a lesson to be learned,” senior linebacker Carlton Gillespie said. “Hopefully, these guys take it into next season and see how important every play is.
“It was a completely different season last year, truth be told, and this was tough to go through. There were games in there that didn’t have to turn out the way they did.”
By keeping his healthy starters in the entire game against Weber State, even after the outcome was well decided, first-year Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh was refusing to give up on the season, one where the Mustangs were already saddled with the most losses since 2002.
The four-game losing streak to end the year is also the longest since the team lost four straight to start in 2002, and the 0-6 road record is the worst since the team put up an identical record away from home in 1998.
Still, Walsh did not empty the bench to try and get a look at some less experienced players for next season.
“If we would have did that, then we have a lot of guys that might have just said, ‘OK, it’s over,’ ” Walsh said.
“I’m not into that play-guys-for-the-future. I just don’t buy into it. I think you play your best players, and you play the game, and that’s what I preach, and that’s what I will always preach. We play the game with the best players that were available.”
The season did not look so gloomy at the start for Cal Poly, nor even midway through.
Even after a 35-23 loss at Montana in October dropped the Mustangs to 2-3, Cal Poly could have run unbeaten through what appeared to be a manageable remaining schedule and go into Saturday’s game with Weber State ready to make a case for the playoffs.
The Mustangs already had a marquee victory over South Dakota State, which got off to its best Division I start in program history at 7-1.
But they tripped up three weeks after the Montana game in a 31-17 loss at North Dakota and failed to win the rest of the year.
Cal Poly blew a 17-7 second-quarter lead over the Fighting Sioux in what turned out to be the pivotal loss.
Losing the lead proved to be a recurring theme for the Mustangs, who held halftime leads in four of their six road losses.
What really hurt was the 1-3 record in the Great West Football Conference. Those losses came against teams that were not highly regarded by the national polls.
“Some of the teams we did lose to, those are good football teams,” Walsh said, “and we’re going to have to play extremely well to beat the Weber States and the Montanas and San Joses and the Ohio Universities. There’s no doubt about it. We need to play like we did against South Dakota State to beat those types of teams.
“A couple of those other losses that we had, I was disappointed in how we played.”