Appalachian State's stunner over No. 5 Michigan on the opening weekend of the 2007 season is colloquially regarded as the greatest upset in college football history. Stanford knocking off No. 1 USC as a six-touchdown underdog that same season holds the honor as the game's greatest upheaval ever, at least in terms of the point spread.
But what happened over the weekend rivals both of those games, and most of the country missed it.
Before we get to the game, some back story is necessary: the Pioneer Football League is an FCS conference that does not offer scholarships. Comprised primarily of private school spread from New York to Florida to Indiana to, obviously, San Diego, the Pioneer League is a nationwide, lesser-known cousin to the Ivy League. And, as one might suspect, the product quite often reflects that.
The Pioneer League didn't earn an automatic berth into the FCS playoffs until 2013, and in its first three tries the Pioneer champion lost its opening round games by scores of 31-0, 52-14 and 24-7. Again, this conference is playing a different game than the rest of the FCS.
So when the selection committee lined up San Diego and Cal Poly in last weekend's opening round, it looked like another blowout was in the offing. The teams had met five times previously; Cal Poly won each of them by an average score of 37-12. The Toreros did enter Saturday's game at 9-1, but that one loss came 38-16 to Cal Poly on Sept. 10. USD was not happy the committee lined up Cal Poly as its first round opponent. "I understand they don't do repeat games," USD head coach Dale Lindsey said. "That's a big lie."
By this point in the article you understand the expected did not, in fact, happen. San Diego 35, Cal Poly 21.
Whereas Cal Poly dominated San Diego's defense the first time around -- they rushed for 354 yards and averaged 14.4 yards per attempt on nine attempts -- coordinator Steve Irvin's defense turned the tables in the rematch. Cal Poly mustered only 155 rushing yards on 3.2 per attempt and completed 6-of-14 throws for just 40 yards. Cal Poly's first downs were cut in half, while offensive coordinator Tanner Engstrand's unit completely flipped the field from the first time around. San Diego upped its yardage from 252 to 473 and its first downs from 13 to 22.
"Coach Lindsey after the game the first time said to me, 'We're just not ready to play you guys," Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said afterward. "Well, they were ready today. Maybe we weren't so ready to play them."
“We were tired of coming up here the last four or five years and getting our tail whipped,” Lindsey told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
San Diego, record upped to 10-1 and now the first Pioneer team to win an FCS playoffs game, now advances to the second round. And where does this sports movie season take them next?