The saying is “defense wins championships.“
Well the UC Davis defense proved itself to be worthy as the Aggies beat Western Oregon 29-13 Saturday night to pick up their first win of the season.
A large part of the victory was thanks to the Aggies‘ defense, which held Wolves to 48 rushing yards and forced two key turnovers that led to two touchdowns.
On the offensive side of the ball, quarterback Greg Denham passed for 225 yards and two touchdowns on 50 attempts while wide receiver Chris Carter had 11 catches for 77 yards.
Perhaps the best single performance of the night, however, belonged to senior cornerback Kenneth Brown, who finished the game with an interception, a forced fumble, a blocked kick, two pass breakups and three tackles.
“I was just taking what they were giving me,” Brown said.
Brown’s interception gave the Aggie offense the ball on the Western Oregon two-yard line and the forced fumble led to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Denham to wide receiver Bakari Grant.
While the final score seemed like a dominating UC Davis performance, the game was close for much of the second half as the Aggies saw a 16-0 lead evaporate after the Wolves put together touchdown drives of 53 and 80 yards, bringing the score to 16-13 with 4:15 left in the third quarter.
Both teams‘ placekickers were pretty good with the exception of a missed extra point attempt per side. For UC Davis‘ sophomore kicker Sean Kelley, the miss, which clanged off the left upright, was his first career failure to convert a PAT. Western Oregon’s miss was the result of pre-game preparation by the Aggies‘ special teams squad.
“We found out that the wing [of the offense] doesn’t usually block the corner coming off the edge, so we game-planned for me to rush it as hard as possible,” said Brown, who blocked the kick.
In danger of letting another game slip away, the Aggies responded with a seven-play, 47-yard drive, culminating in a three-yard touchdown pass from Denham to wide receiver Sean Creadick.
UC Davis added two more Kelley field goals in the fourth quarter to account for the final margin.
Kelley was three for three in field goal attempts, the first of which was a career long 46-yarder.
The ability of Western Oregon to close the gap in the third quarter despite their constant mistakes – nine penalties in the first half to go along with their two turnovers – was due to UC Davis‘ continued inability to run the ball effectively, said coach Bob Biggs.
“I think our defense is out there too long and eventually people are going to score some points,” Biggs said. “There was a period where we had too many three-and-outs and the defense was on the field too much. They’re going to tire.“
The Aggies were held to just 60 rushing yards on 30 carries against the Wolves. They were held to 43 yards rushing in both their previous games.
Part of the problem, Biggs claims, is due to the injuries that have plagued his squad early in the season.
“We’re so banged up at tight end, we’re not getting any production on the edge,” he said.
UC Davis‘ continued troubles with the run game were overshadowed by the contributions from the special teams.
In addition to the three Kelley field goals and Brown’s blocked PAT, true freshman punter Colton Schmidt pinned the Wolves inside their 20-yard line twice, allowing UC Davis to win the field management part of the game according to Biggs.
Schmidt had three punts inside the 20 against Montana, which earned him Great West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Next up for the Aggies is Boise State, currently ranked No. 5 in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls. The teams play in Boise, Idaho next Saturday at 5 p.m.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.