Coach Bob Burt and Cal State Northridge football players proved two things during a season that ended in tears Saturday in Sacramento.
Burt proved he was a good football coach and a master of cliches. The players proved they were better than their past records showed and that they were complete suckers for a catchy line.
It was a combination that came within a touchdown of bringing Northridge a Western Football Conference championship in Burt's first season as coach.
Pick your favorite line:
(a) "Hard work is the way to win football games."
(b) "You have to believe you're winners."
(c) "Good teams can deal with adversity."
(d) "Championship teams rise to the occasion for big games."
The players responded to all of the above and the team came away with its best record (8-3) since 1976.
The Matadors were ranked in the Top 20 since the third week of the season, after they upset highly regarded Cal State Hayward, 20-7, in their second game. It was the first of three significant wins.
Others were a 21-20 victory over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in which Northridge drove 80 yards for a touchdown in the last two minutes of the game, and a 34-0 rout of Portland State two weeks ago.
Rich Lopez, the offensive coordinator, said that defeating Hayward was important because "the kids started thinking, 'If they're 19th best, what does that make us?' "
The other two wins made Burt somewhat of a prophet.
He often told his team that being able to come from behind in the final minutes might mean a championship.
Last Saturday, it was Cal State Sacramento that rallied when it had to, defeating Northridge, 21-17, in a game for the WFC title.
If Northridge had won, it might be playing top-ranked North Dakota State in the Division II playoffs in Fargo, N.D., on Saturday.
What is of some comfort for the team's seniors is that they went out winners after being 4-7 in 1985.
"We came a long way in a year," said co-captain Darrell McIntyre.
Said tailback Mike Kane: "If we had had a bad year like before, my whole career here would have meant nothing. This made the whole four years worthwhile."
Burt has received most of the credit for the team's turnaround, but, to use a cliche even he would be proud of . . . a coach is only as good as his players.
Kane, who will leave with school and conference rushing records and points in a season. He's 5-10, 180 pounds, and was considered too slow and not elusive enough in high school to play major college football.
All he did this season was play on the field goal, PAT, punt and kickoff return teams, then rush for 1,565 yards and 14 touchdowns against defenses stacked to stop him.
Chris Parker didn't have the kind of season he had in 1985, when he set three school passing records, but he still played at key role.
Kane, Parker, McIntyre, center Brian Clark, kicker Mike Doan and linebacker Reggie Wauls all came through as expected. But the season was not without surprises.
Dester Stowers, a junior transfer from Pasadena, was expected to help out on the defensive line, but instead he became one of the most dominant players in the WFC.
Dan Coleman, a senior safety who wasn't in the team's plans after spring practice, told the coaches he deserved to play during the summer, then went out and proved it by winning a starting spot. He wound up calling the defensive signals and intercepting five passes.
Bryan Kellen was a defensive back during the spring, but when both starting wide receivers were ruled academically ineligible before the season, Kellen was moved to offense.
He dropped more passes than he caught during the first five games, but with time running out against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo it was Kellen who caught the winning touchdown pass. He made several more clutch catches after that.
Burt and his assistants will have to make a key catch or two to replace most of their starting seniors.
Burt thinks the quarterback spot is in pretty good hands already. Sherdrick Bonner, a 6-3, 170-pound freshman redshirted this season. Burt calls Bonner "the franchise." And that is pretty noteworthy considering the coach's luck with corny phrases.