As a team, faith in one another was essential for a big win.
That’s what the Aggies had as they overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit to stun San Jose State on its homecoming night at Spartan Stadium.
San Jose State took its 13-0 halftime lead by scoring on three possessions – a 36-yard field goal by kicker Harrison Waid, a 25-yard pass from quarterback Matt Faulkner and another Waid field goal.
According to head coach Bob Biggs, the defense was consistent throughout, limiting the Spartans’ scoring to just the first half.
But one could say the first half wasn’t so glorious on the offensive side of the ball.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Randy Wright threw for 78 yards and the Aggies’ could only rush for 11 more.
In the second quarter, UC Davis thought running back Josh Reese snuck across the goal line on a short swing pass, but the ruling on the field said he was knocked out of bounds at the one-yard line.
If that wasn’t painful enough, the Aggies had the ball within the Spartans’ one-yard line with 19 seconds left in the half. Nick Aprile then ran for a touchdown, a call that would eventually be reversed, leaving the Aggies scoreless in the first half.
While a tentative offense couldn’t make plays in the early part of the game, junior linebacker Dozie Amajoyi had something to say in the halftime huddle that would change the spirit of the Aggies’ offensive game.
“He poked his head in the offensive side of the locker room,” Wright said. “And with a big smile on his face like he always does, said, ‘Hey, you guys, smile. We’re going to get some stops on defense, put some points on the board. We believe in you.'”
The defense continued its strong play in the second half, forcing and recovering a Spartan fumble on San Jose State’s own nine-yard line.
Meanwhile, the offensive squad came out a new team in the latter half. UC Davis took advantage of the short field, pushing the ball to the Spartan one. Aprile’s second attempt at a touchdown from the goal line was called back because his helmet came off before he crossed the pylon.
“Nick was determined to get in,” Biggs said. “Helmet on or helmet off, he was going to get in there.”
Aprile wouldn’t be denied a third time, powering through for UC Davis’ first touchdown in two weeks and to make the score 13-7.
The Aggie defense stifled the Spartan offense, forcing another San Jose State punt.
UC Davis responded with an eight-play, 78-yard drive, capped off by a four-yard touchdown pass to receiver Tom Hemmingsen for the Aggies’ first and final lead of the game.
The Spartans had one last opportunity with 3:31 left in the fourth quarter, but Waid’s 52-yard field goal went wide left. The Aggies took over the ball and didn’t look back en route to the 14-13 victory.
UC Davis finished with zero turnovers and just four penalties for 37 yards.
For Wright, Amajoyi’s encouragement at halftime was all that was needed to win the contest.
Wright nearly tripled his number of passing yards in the second half, finishing the outing with a season-high 223 yards including the winning touchdown pass.
“Wright grew up in front of our eyes,” Biggs said. “He showed a maturity and confidence that we’ve been looking for and that was really pleasing.”
But the quarterback gave credit to the defense for establishing a foundation in the game.
“When you see our defense flying around making big hits, big plays and crucial stops, the team feeds off that and we translated their energy into moving the ball and scoring touchdowns,” Wright said. “The defense was playing great all night and once the offense got our confidence that we could move the ball on this team, the rest took care of itself.”
Amajoyi had a game-high 10 tackles, including one tackle for loss for seven yards.
Strong safety Byron Gruendl, defensive tackle Andrew Benjamin, and defensive end Eric Sobotka posted a sack apiece for a total of 25 yards.
Additionally, Gruendl and safety Danny Hart each posted nine tackles.
“Defensively, we knew we had them on their heels,” Hart said. “They weren’t going to be able to run the ball on us.”
Hart wore a big smile after the win against the Spartans – the Aggies’ first win against a Football Bowl Subdivision team since the upset against Stanford in 2005.
“We’ve proven to ourselves that if we just keep grinding, we’re going to see results in the end,” Hart said.
UC Davis opens up Great West Conference play next weekend when it hosts South Dakota for the annual Homecoming game at 6 p.m.
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at email@example.com.