In a year where quarterback Greg Denham has been all the talk of the UC Davis offense, it was Denham’s backup who put the Aggies on his back Saturday afternoon in Portland, Ore.
“[His performance] was incredible, quite frankly,” said coach Bob Biggs.
Austin Heyworth, a redshirt freshman, was indispensable in the Aggies’ 34-31 victory over the Portland State Vikings.
With 5:19 left in the third quarter, Denham was sacked, causing a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. On the play, Denham suffered a finger laceration, forcing him to the sideline.
Down 28-17, the Aggies turned to Heyworth.
“Personally, I was just hoping he could come in and manage the game,” Biggs said. “I thought he could just service the game and we could win it in the fourth quarter, but he surpassed my expectations for him.”
Heyworth, who previously had only seen playing time during UC Davis’ blowout wins, came off the bench to complete six of seven passes for 82 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
After an initial drive in which the offense gained one yard and went three-and-out, Heyworth found his stride and led the Aggies on a five-play, 59-yard march that culminated with a 30-yard pass to receiver Bakari Grant.
UC Davis held Portland State on the ensuing possession but muffed the punt, leading to a Vikings field goal.
Trailing 31-24 in the fourth quarter with Denham’s finger keeping him on the sideline, the Aggies looked to Heyworth once again.
“His composure was just tremendous,” Biggs said.
Heyworth led the UC Davis offense down the field in five plays, tying the game on a 15-yard pass to tight end Brad Bispo with 8:57 to go in the fourth quarter.
The Aggies got the ball back again two minutes later and with Denham’s finger in better shape, he re-entered the game.
“Once they got the bleeding to stop there was no question [Denham] was going back in,” Biggs said.
A final Aggie drive ended with a 38-yard field goal by Sean Kelley that put UC Davis ahead for good.
The Aggies were playing from behind in the second half in large part due to a lackluster defensive effort in the first half in which they allowed the Vikings to gain 220 total yards.
“We were just flat for whatever reason in the first half,” Biggs said. “We weren’t playing with the same energy we had been for the first four or five games. In the second half it looked like the same old defense. We just shut them down.”
The Aggie defense stiffened after halftime, giving up only 17 yards of offense in the final two quarters.
“It was a remarkable turnaround,” Biggs said.
Also on the rebound was the Aggie rushing attack, which gained 143 yards on the ground against Portland State. It was the first time the Aggies have rushed for over 100 yards this season.
The game-winning kick earned Kelley Great West Conference Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Heyworth was named conference offensive player of the week for his effort coming off the bench.
The victory puts the Aggies’ record at 4-3, and marks the first time the team has been over .500 since last October.
UC Davis plays another road game next week against Southern Utah on Halloween.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.