Early Loss is Not a Season Breaker

by Mick Holien

Well it had to happen some time and the continual pitfalls of wearing a bulls-eye came to fruition Saturday night in San Luis Obispo at the hands of Cal Poly.

When I hopped out of the shower Saturday afternoon before leaving for Alex Spanos Stadium, I just had a feeling and mentioned to Gurns that winning is contagious and joyful but can’t continue forever.

But I have to tell you like a lot of fans, I’m just plain spoiled and I don’t like the feeling this morning.

So many times in my tenure, I’ve seen Montana teams win under seemingly impossible odds, answering the call from behind with a special-teams play, the block of a kick or some other turn over to drive the field with little time remaining for a winning score.

All you have to do is go back to the last time these two teams played on this field in 2008 when a Mustang winning short field goal went awry and the Grizzlies held on for a 30-28 victory.

And with a smidge over a minute and ample time outs, even though they were starting from their own two-yard line, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that Brody McKnight would get a chance to drill a winner.

Call it the ‘Dave Dickenson syndrome’ if you will, those kinds of things have been happening since I took the men’s sports radio helm in 1993.

And even with short side line patterns that moved the ball a miniscule amount, I still thought there was going to be time.

But this time this team proved not to be invincible.

They hit the field with 12 players and had to burn one of those time outs. Then there seemed to be a lack of recognition in immediacy and they took a long time to get a play called.  And when it was finally called the offensive line failed to protect the backside of Justin Roper.  Roper didn’t feel the pressure, and the football was knocked from his hand a split second before his arm came forward.  At that point it was game over as Cal Poly recovered and sent Mustang Field into a frenzy.

The key play for me was on the previous scoring drive when Roper threw a dart over the head of an open Jabin Sambrano in the middle of the back of the end zone on a tying two-point conversion attempt.

Armchair quarterbacks have already gathered and dissected Saturday’s game.   And accordingly, have placed the blame for the first regular season non-conference loss since 2006.

I think back to the challenges for a new group with a ton of inexperienced players sprinkled through the lineup and a mostly new coaching staff. I mentioned that to Robin Pflugrad during the pre-game radio show.

What were the contributing factors you ask?  An untested travel roster of 58, a night game under the lights on a grass field, and a feisty opponent with an unusual offense that has won just a single matchup in 14 games against the Grizzlies.

You won’t hear any excuses here – Cal Poly deserved to win and should celebrate their accomplishment.  But I have always believed you learn more about yourself in adverse situations than you do when things are going well.   While wins have to be celebrated, how a team reacts to a loss is certainly more evidence of its character and leadership.

Yes the Grizzlies are 1-1 like they were in 2000 and 2001 when they finished 13-2 and 15-1, losing in one title game and capturing the championship in the next.

The taste of losing two of their last three games (beginning with the Villanova loss last year) won’t wash out easily.   But, I saw the look in this team’s eyes on the airplane early Sunday morning and you can bet they are putting their hard hats back on, spitting out the remnants of disappointment, and focusing on the conference opener in Cheney next Saturday afternoon.

Count me as a half-glass-full kind of guy but an early loss is not a season breaker any more than a Number 1 ranking this time of year is a season maker. This group will have their ears pinned back when they face the Eagles of Eastern Washington.

What you have to say this week will say a lot about how you’re going to be counted as a Griz fan. I’ll take mine with the sugar of a 13th consecutive conference title when the dust clears in November.