The scenario entering Saturday’s game at Aggie Stadium was simple – winner claims the Great West Conference title.
By Saturday’s end, UC Davis proved that it wanted it more as the Aggies were able to make big plays when they needed them to come out with the 28-20 victory over North Dakota.
UC Davis jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and it looked as if the rout was on but North Dakota wasn’t about to let up their chance at a league championship.
After being held to seven yards on nine plays in the first quarter, North Dakota’s backup quarterback Brent Goska was sent into the game to change up the offensive pace.
“I thought North Dakota did a nice job mixing it up going no-huddle and letting [Goska] come in and use his athletic ability to move the ball down the field,” said coach Bob Biggs.
Goska led the no-huddle offense on a 10-play, 80-yard drive to close the gap to 14-7 with 9:06 left to play in the second quarter.
Each team traded punts on the next eight possessions as both sides struggled to get any kind of offensive rhythm going with the wind swirling around the stadium.
“The wind was a factor,” Biggs said. “It seemed like neither team could get a whole lot going when they were going into the wind.”
The offensive drought came to a close near the end of the third quarter when a personal foul on UC Davis kept a North Dakota drive alive, leading to a field goal by Brandon Hellevang and moving the score to 14-10.
Aggie quarterback Greg Denham threw an interception on the ensuing possession, giving North Dakota the ball on the UC Davis 30-yard line.
The UC Davis defense held North Dakota to 10 yards on five plays, forcing another Hellevang field goal that made the score 14-13.
Clinging to a one-point lead, the Aggies finally regained the offensive success that they had in the first half of play. A 10-play, 71-yard drive that featured five plays of 10 yards or more culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by running back Josh Reese, extending the Aggies’ lead to 21-13.
North Dakota quarterback Jake Landry, who struggled most of the day against the wind and a blitz-happy defense, threw an interception on the next possession, leading to an 8-yard touchdown pass from Denham to receiver Chris Carter.
Trailing 28-13, North Dakota refused to give up as it managed a 71-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead to 28-20 with 3:37 left to play. The chance for a come-from-behind win lingered until the ensuing onside kick failed as UC Davis walked away with the win.
The victory seals the first winning season for UC Davis since 2006 and their first Great West Championship since 2005.
In addition to the team effort, Carter and senior linebacker Mike Morales both had substantial individual contributions.
Carter had nine catches on the day for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The nine receptions Saturday gives Carter 204 receptions during his UC Davis career. He needs only three catches against Sacramento State next week to tie the all-time school reception record set by Tony Kays.
On the defensive side of the ball, Morales led the Aggies with eight tackles and was named the Great West Conference Defensive Player of the Week for the second consecutive week.
The Aggies are excited about their conference title but are not basking in their glory quite yet as they their attention focused on the season finale against Sacramento State.
With the win, the UC Davis is also two-third through its season goals – a win over Cal Poly, a Great West title and a victory against Sacramento State.
“I’ll be honest with you, getting two without the third is going to be kind of empty,” Biggs said.
The Aggies take on the Hornets Saturday at 2 p.m.
RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at email@example.com.