The Golden Horseshoe has been residing at Cal Poly since 2006.
That changed Saturday when the UC Davis defense aided in bringing the prize home, clinching a 23-10 victory with its strong play down the stretch.
“We stumbled at the beginning,” said defensive captain Mike Morales. “Then we picked it up and trusted each other, the game plan and [defensive coordinator Mark] Johnson.”
Despite its initial struggles against the triple-option offense of Cal Poly, the Aggie defense came together as a unit to shut down the Mustangs.
“Everybody’s got to do his job,” Morales said. “Every guy has to trust that the guy next to him is going to do his job. As soon as someone else tries to do something more than just his job, that’s when [Cal Poly] is going to gash you for those big runs.”
The Mustang offense started out hot, scoring on two of its first three drives. To open the game, Cal Poly went 77 yards on 8 plays to open a 7-0 lead.
UC Davis answered Cal Poly’s opening score with a nine-play, 61-yard drive of their own, culminating in a 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Greg Denham to tight end Brad Bispo to tie the game.
Five minutes into the second quarter, Cal Poly converted a field goal to go up 10-7. That’s about all that the Mustang offense could muster as its next six drives consisted of two turnovers on downs, two punts, a blocked field goal and a missed field goal.
“The defense did a great job defending the dive,” said coach Bob Biggs. “The quarterback seemed like he didn’t want to run the ball much and they were forced to pitch the ball.”
The adjustments paid off, and the Aggies were able to tie the game at 10-10 in the third quarter.
After forcing a three-and-out by the Mustangs, UC Davis received the ball on their own 44-yard line and began a game-altering drive.
Stalled on the Cal Poly 35-yard line, the Aggies turned to kicker Sean Kelley for what would be a career-long – and school record – 52-yard field goal attempt.
“I knew I had to do it,” Kelley said. “I had the wind at my back and the confidence of Coach Biggs.”
Kelley did it. He drove a low, tumbling kick through the uprights to help the Aggies take a 13-10 lead over the Mustangs.
“I really thought that 52-yarder gave us momentum,” Biggs said.
Cal Poly was never able to regain any of the swagger from early in the game as its only decent drive of the second half ended in a blocked field goal – the second block by Aggie cornerback Kenneth Brown this season.
The Aggies tacked on a four-yard rush and another field goal to account for the final score.
UC Davis utilized its new Wildcat offensive formation for the second straight week. The formation – which UC Davis calls “the Gator” – features backup free safety Nick Aprile as quarterback and gives him the option of either running or passing.
“We’ve stolen right from Florida’s playbook,” Biggs said. “[Aprile] is so adept at running it and reading the holes that it’s gone better than we thought.”
Aprile, who played quarterback in high school, came into run the formation in short yardage situations as he rushed nine times for 38 yards and a touchdown against Cal Poly.
“It really adds a physical aspect to our team,” Aprile said. “Cal Poly kind of wore down and they didn’t want any part of it after awhile.”
For their performances against the Mustangs, Morales and Kelley received Great West Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Week, respectively.
It is the second time that Kelley has earned such honors this season.
The win gives UC Davis its second Great West Conference victory of the season and puts the team in a first place tie with North Dakota. The Aggies play host to the Fighting Sioux next weekend with the conference title on the line.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.