Jerry Rice can credit Ramses Barden for lowering his name on the NCAA record book.
Barden can credit his team’s running game and second-half defense for making it matter.
The Cal Poly triple-option attack accounted for 427 rushing yards, and the Mustangs defense responded from a halftime scare by limiting UC Davis to 64 yards of second-half offense in a 51-28 home win.
The Aggies went blow-to-blow with No. 3 Cal Poly (8-1, 3-0) early on, entering halftime tied 21-21.
“I’m very proud of the way our guys competed,” said UC Davis head coach Bob Biggs. “We hung in with them there in the first half, but they’re just too good a team.“
The win was Cal Poly’s seventh straight and clinched not only the Great West Conference title but likely an at-large bid for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
Barden broke Rice’s record for most consecutive games with a touchdown reception, scoring for the 18th straight game.
“The record will mean a lot more a few years from now,“ said Cal Poly quarterback Jonathan Dally, who threw every touchdown during the streak. “I went over and told him congratulations, and he told me congratulations. It’s been fun. The ride’s been great, but it’s not over.“
The record was one of the few bright spots for the Cal Poly passing game. UC Davis held the Mustangs to only 95 yards in the air.
Dally was 8-of-20 for the game but found other ways to make his mark, rushing for a season-high 173 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
Fullback Jordan Yocum also surpassed the century mark with 111 yards on 10 rushes, including a score.
“It was a guessing game for us because sometimes we were trying our coverage schemes to make sure they didn’t get the big play downfield to Ramses or [Trendale] Tolver,” Biggs said. “The quarterback did a great job of reading what the defense gave him and holding onto the ball in the option game.“
UC Davis scored on its opening possession of the game, capping a six-play, 81-yard drive with a five-yard reception by Brandon Rice.
After being held to a three-and-out, the Cal Poly offense retook the field after Asa Jackson forced a fumble and Greg Francis returned it to the Aggies‘ 25-yard line.
Dally eventually scored from 14 yards out to put the Mustangs on the board.
The two teams exchanged touchdowns again in the second quarter with UC Davis scoring on its next position off a 14-yard Brad Bispo touchdown reception.
Early in the third quarter, Barden scored the record-breaker from 13 yards out, but Rice found the end zone for the second time with 12 seconds remaining in the half. Rice finished the game with six receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns.
“He came to compete, as he always does,” Biggs said. “Brandon’s put together a real good senior year this year. I was happy for him. He works really hard on his game and puts in a lot of time and effort. It’s nice to see it pay off from him.“
The Aggies offense couldn’t sustain the momentum from the Rice score, as the Cal Poly defense turned up the heat and pressured Greg Denham to throw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Denham had his fourth straight 300-yard game, going 22-of-42 for 332 with four touchdowns. He has thrown for 3,044 yards on the year, becoming the fifth quarterback in Aggies history to reach the 3,000-passing yard milestone.
With the loss, UC Davis dropped to 5-6 (2-1) on the season, which concludes next week at San Diego.
“We’re going to be bump-and-bruised; our kids played very, very hard, played very physical,” Biggs said. “But they’ll be resilient. They know we need to finish at .500 this year, and we need a good win over San Diego, so they’ll be ready to go.“
MICHAEL GEHLKEN can be reached at email@example.com.