Fourth-and-11. Down by six. Overtime. Over nine thousand screaming fans.
This was the situation for the Aggies as they trailed 23-17 in the DakotaDome. The outcome of the game hinged on this play.
“[The Coyotes] had been mixing up their defenses pretty well between three man rushes and blitzing,” said coach Bob Biggs. “The play we ended up calling we had run previously a couple times [in long yardage situations] with good success. The play is designed to clear out the safeties and find a window between them and the linebackers.”
The Aggies did just that.
In the shotgun, quarterback Greg Denham took the snap, dropped back and waited for wide receiver Chris Carter to work his way open, hitting him for a 24-yard gain.
First and goal, Aggies.
Running back Joe Trombetta would score two plays later to tie the game and Sean Kelley’s extra point would seal the victory.
“We had an eight game losing streak on the road, so it was nice to get that monkey off our back,” Biggs said. “It was nice to get a conference win and just as important for the psyche of the team to come away with such a dramatic victory against a good football team.”
After jumping out to a 10-3 halftime lead, the Aggies scored less than six minutes into the third quarter on a 23-yard pass from Denham to wide receiver Bakari Grant, making it 17-3 in favor of UC Davis.
The Coyotes would not let the Aggies ruin their homecoming so easily as they came howling back.
Shepherd and the South Dakota offense responded with drives of 72 and 99 yards to tie the game at 17-17. With neither team able to score in the fourth quarter, the game went into overtime.
South Dakota got the ball first and took over on the UC Davis 25-yard line but a quick pass interference penalty on cornerback Kenneth Brown moved the ball to the 12-yard line. Three plays later, facing fourth-and-two from the four-yard line, the Coyotes elected to go for it, rather than kick a field goal.
Shepherd rushed two yards for the first down, and on the next play ran the ball in to the endzone for a touchdown.
The Coyotes were not able to convert the extra point attempt as defensive tackle Jacob Maxson blocked the kick, setting the stage for the Aggies’ dramatic win.
Although the Aggies came away from the game victorious, some of credit has to go to the Coyotes’ special teams squad, which was anything but. South Dakota kicker Sam Saywer missed field goal attempts of 20 and 31 yards and had an extra point attempt blocked in overtime.
Meanwhile, the Aggies’ special teams continued to be a bright spot.
Punter Colton Schmidt pinned the Coyotes inside their own 20-yard line three times and Maxson accounted for the blocked extra point.
“Our punt team continues to be a real plus because of Colton’s ability to put the ball deep in [the opposing team’s] territory,” Biggs said. “It causes them to be a little more conservative.”
While both special teams units operated on opposite sides of the spectrum, the offenses of UC Davis and South Dakota both excelled.
The Aggies and Coyotes each accounted for 23 first downs and over 400 yards of total offense.
Denham passed for 380 yards and two touchdowns on 27-for-41 passing while his counterpart, Coyote quarterback Noah Shepherd, completed 20 of 30 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
Shepherd, who is known as a running quarterback, also rushed 14 times for 67 yards and a touchdown.
On defense for the Aggies, linebacker Mike Morales followed up his 13-tackle performance against Boise State with 12 against South Dakota.
Next Saturday, the Aggies play their homecoming game against Winston-Salem State at 6 p.m.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.