Greg Denham gave J.T. O’Sullivan a tough act to follow.
Hours before UC Davis’ all-time passing leader made his first career NFL start, Denham shined in his first start for the Aggies. The sophomore threw for 261 of his 296 yards and all three of his touchdowns in the second half, nearly rallying UC Davis past No. 22 Central Arkansas in a 24-21 road loss on Saturday.
The Aggies had only 43 yards of total offense in the first half and trailed 17-0 in the third quarter before the offensive explosion.
“I felt like we were just playing more as a team [in the second half],” Denham said, “and I just got into a rhythm.”
So did Chris Carter.
The junior wide receiver set career highs with 13 receptions and 189 yards while catching two touchdown passes late in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 17-14.
Central Arkansas and UC Davis then exchanged touchdowns, and the Bears were forced to punt, giving the Aggies possession at their own 20-yard line with 4:39 left in regulation.
Denham drove UC Davis to the Central Arkansas 30-yard line before throwing an interception in the end zone with 43 seconds remaining on a pass intended for Carter.
Despite the late turnover, head coach Bob Biggs had a positive review for his young quarterback.
“I thought he handled the adversity [of the first half] extremely well,” Biggs said. “He was very accurate, very composed, and eluded the pass rush pretty well. He was just very, very solid.… I don’t think there’s any question that Greg is going to be a terrific player for us.”
While the passing offense thrived in the second half, UC Davis’ running game was kept in check for the second straight week. The Aggies finished with 11 yards on 20 carries to follow up its season opener when it rushed for 61 yards on 30 carries.
The loss was the team’s second straight by a three-point margin. Central Arkansas improves to 2-0, while UC Davis falls to 0-2. The Aggies face Portland State in their home opener on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“I think we all know that we could be 2-0,” Biggs said. “We’re a good football team. If I didn’t think we were a good football team, I would say so, but we are – we’re a good football team.
“We haven’t been able to pull these first two games out, but we play hard. The kids showed great passion and kept battling. That’s all you can ask for – keep battling, and things will turn our way.”
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at email@example.com.