When the word 'upset' comes up in FCS circles, it's usually in reference to early-season upsets over FBS schools. That's when the word is tossed around most.
San Diego gave us an opportunity to use it in a different context. What the Toreros did Saturday is arguably the biggest statement win in FCS Playoff history. Critics may argue that it was 'only the first round' and that Cal Poly wasn't the strongest opponent, but a few key points need to be made here about this 35-21 victory:
- Cal Poly was the top rushing team in the nation coming into this weekend. Yes, the entire nation — FCS and FBS. San Diego held that vaunted rushing attack to just 155 yards — more than 200 yards below its average. But why should this surprise us? San Diego leads the nation in scoring defense (12.9 ppg) and total defense (244.6 ypg).
- This was a rematch. Cal Poly knocked San Diego around in the first month of the season (and won 38-16). The following week, the Mustangs beat South Dakota State 38-31 — that's a seeded FCS playoff team that holds college football's lone win over North Dakota State.
- Not only was this the first FCS playoff win in San Diego history, it was the first FCS Playoff win in Pioneer Football League history as well.
- San Diego and the PFL do not offer scholarships. Maybe this bullet point should have been first, eh?
This isn't a No. 8 seed beating a No. 1 seed. In that scenario, they're still both seeded teams. This was a win that shouldn't have happened, but did, all because the Toreros refused to listen to the 'experts'. They put the entire PFL on their backs and broke through that cinder block wall of expectation. What's the point of strapping on the helmets and pads if we already know exactly what will happen?
"This is an awesome win for San Diego and the Pioneer Football League … an upset, for sure, that is on par with NDSU's win at Iowa this year and App State's historic win at Michigan (in 2007)," Pioneer Football League commissioner Patty Viverito told HERO Sports on Sunday. "But most importantly, it proves the PFL Champion belongs in the FCS Playoffs."
On a sloppy wet field, San Diego running back Jonah Hodges (171 yards rushing, 3 TDs; 7 catches, 37 yards) outperformed his NFL-bound counterpart Joe Protheroe (122 rushing yards, 2 TDs). The starting offensive line of tackles Daniel Cooney and Miles McArdle, guards Trevor Provencio and Jake Arlotti and center Joe Hurney has been a solid and intact unit for San Diego all year long and it showed on Saturday.
"It was rough out there today," Hodges said after the game. "I thought our offensive line did a great job getting me some space to run in. We knew both teams were going to have a tough time cutting on the wet field, so our plan was to just chip away and try to establish a running game, as well as get our passing game going."
On defense for the Toreros, Nic Henson and Colton Giorgi were spectacular with 12 and 11 tackles a piece. Alec Moreno recovered two of the three fumbles the Toreros forced, while Jonathan Petersen was super active as well. If you really wanted to do this defensive job justice, you'd need to create a list of nearly two dozen players who contributed to shutting down the run game of Cal Poly. Quarterback Anthony Lawrence was also calm and cool and delivered when needed.
The reward for all of this? A shot at the five-time FCS national champion North Dakota State. Will the upsets continue? That obviously is not for us to decide.[divider]
HERO SPORTS REACHED OUT TO SEVERAL PIONEER LEAGUE COACHES SUNDAY TO GET THEIR REACTION TO SAN DIEGO'S LANDMARK WIN:
"San Diego's win yesterday was not a surprise for those of us in the Pioneer League, they are a quality football team and have been improving throughout the year. This is a big win for our league as a whole because of the respect it garners for the quality of football our teams play. We at Drake are excited for San Diego and proud of them and the entire PFL." – Drake coach Ricky Fox
"The SD win yesterday was outstanding for our league. It showed that there are talented players and quality coaches in the PFL that can compete against scholarship FCS teams." – Dayton coach Ricky Chamblerlain
"I’m happy for the University of San Diego, and the Pioneer Football League. I believe it’s a statement win for the PFL, and I knew it would eventually happen. It’s instant credibility for the PFL and non-scholarship football, and it will benefit all our members as we prepare to hit the road recruiting. I’ve always rooted for the PFL automatic qualifier. I want to see our teams be successful on the national stage." – Morehead State coach Robert Tenyer