Two days after Cal State Northridge suffered its most devastating loss of the season, first-year football Coach Ron Ponciano picked up the pieces in typical fashion.
He aimed his sights on next year.
"The offseason conditioning is going to be brutal," Ponciano said. "We're going to see who really cares, and not just after a loss."
Northridge's 32-29 upset loss at Idaho State on Saturday cost the Matadors first place in the Big Sky Conference, and a Division I-AA playoff spot, leaving the team in tears.
Said junior running back Jaumal Bradley after the game: "This is something for everyone who wears an N on the side of his helmet never to forget a moment like this."
The Matadors (7-4, 5-3 in conference play) challenged for the Big Sky championship after being picked to finish seventh in the coaches' preseason poll. They finished tied for second with Montana State, one game behind Montana.
"I'm very proud of the kids, how they responded from being a nobody in the conference to a title contender," Ponciano said.
The Matadors will have 40 redshirt players available next season, and Ponciano said 18 I-A players have contacted him about playing at Northridge. He said Northridge will have about 16 full scholarships available.
"We're going to be extremely selective on who we recruit," Ponciano said. "We need to know they're going to fit here. . . We've got to solidify the lines. We'll go after some linebackers and [defensive backs]. Most of the [I-A] kids who are calling are linemen."
Several Matadors received All-Big Sky honors on Monday.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Brady was selected the Big Sky's newcomer of the year and second-team quarterback.
Junior linebacker Brennen Swanson was a unanimous first-team pick on defense and Bradley was selected to the first-team offense.
Other Matadors on the second-team offense were junior receiver Aaron Arnold and senior guard David San Vicente. Sophomore safety Jeremy Golden and sophomore punter Ethan Beck were picked on the second-team defense.
Receiver Drew Hill, offensive tackle Keith Kincaid, tailback
Melvin Blue, kicker Manny Marquez, linebackers Shayne Blakey and Chazz Moore, cornerback Mel Miller and safety Vito Clemente received honorable mention.
Brady, a redshirt freshman, finished with 2,974 yards passing and 25 touchdowns, each ranking third on Northridge's single-season list.
His 67.8% (255 of 376) passing percentage is the school's best for a season and career.
Aaron Flowers, who holds most Northridge passing records, was the Big Sky's top newcomer in 1996 as a junior.
Talk about getting whacked between the eyes with a potato sack.
Make that sacks.
The Matadors opened the season with a 26-13 loss at I-A Boise State on Sept. 5 and finished with the loss in Pocatello.
The collapse at Idaho State came with an added annoyance.
After every Idaho State score, a huge remote-control cow hovered over the field and stands, part of the team's "Got Milk?" promotion.
Had Northridge won Saturday, the Matadors and Montana would have been Big Sky co-champions, with the tiebreaker and the conference's berth in the I-AA playoffs going to Northridge. Montana probably would have received an at-large bid.
Instead, Montana (8-3) is the Big Sky's lone representative in the playoffs. The Grizzlies, seeded No. 13, play at No. 4 Western Illinois on Saturday.
It's the first time since I-AA adopted a 16-team playoff format in 1986 that the Big Sky has only one team in the tournament.
Three teams from the region will play in junior college bowl games on Dec. 5.
Moorpark College, ranked No. 3 in Southern California, will play Chaffey in the Southern California Bowl at Chaffey. College of the Canyons will play Mt. San Jacinto in the McDonald's Charity Bowl at Antelope Valley College. Ventura will host West Los Angeles in the Western State Conference Bowl.