South Alabama just doesn’t know how to lose.
The Aggies held a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter until a dynamic Jaguar offense erupted for a 45-yard touchdown pass with just over five minutes left in the game.
With that play, the visiting team would take the 24-21 victory Saturday afternoon, dropping UC Davis to 3-4 on the season.
“We knew [South Alabama] had a lot of speed,” said Aggie wide receiver Sean Creadick. “Their defense was able to fly around and their offense was explosive. All in all, they’re a good football team.”
The Jaguars’ talent was evident, but coach Bob Biggs was mostly stunned by their control throughout the game.
“They showed good composure,” Biggs said. “You’re not sure how a team that hasn’t been challenged is going to handle adversity. They stuck to their game plan and they didn’t get rattled, and it worked out for them.”
South Alabama came out strong with a score on a 74-yard opening drive, followed by another touchdown in its following possession for the 14-0 lead.
UC Davis responded with a glint of brilliance late in the first quarter when it strung together a series of first downs, highlighted by a 26-yard pass to Creadick from freshman quarterback Randy Wright.
The drive was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by running back Corbin Cutshaw to put UC Davis within seven.
The Aggies took advantage of their strong two-minute offense, which came alive at the end of the half, tying the game at 14 with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Wright to Creadick.
Wright completed 23 of 42 passes, throwing for 238 yards, including 12 for 147 to Creadick.
While the passing game was successful against the Jaguars, Biggs said implementing a new wrinkle in the wildcat offense during the bye week would also help develop a run game and keep the opposing defense honest.
The Aggies saw some benefit from the new offensive formation as they gained 138 rushing yards on the night, with running back Nick Aprile’s 44 yards leading the way.
The power on offense was enough to take the lead and put the Aggies ahead 21-14 in the third quarter when Wright linked up with wide receiver Tom Hemmingsen for a 17-yard touchdown pass.
376 offensive yards just weren’t enough to win the game.
South Alabama shocked everyone late in the fourth quarter with a 45-yard touchdown pass to take the lead for the final time.
“They don’t know what losing is,” Aprile said. “They came in with a whole bunch of confidence. They’re an athletic bunch – undisciplined at times, but they play really hard.”
The resilient Aggies pushed the ball to within field goal range on their final possession. Unfortunately, formerly perfect kicker Sean Kelley missed the possible game-tying field goal as time expired to give the Jaguars the 24-21 win.
Wright believes one problem was the Aggies’ inability on offense to build upon the momentum created by the defense.
“Our defense kept stopping them,” Wright said. “We couldn’t put another field goal or touchdown on the board to help them out.”
The Aggie defense forced four punts out of the Jaguars and three sacks, while also recovering two South Alabama fumbles.
The UC Davis offense simply missed too many scoring chances.
“We didn’t take advantage of some to the opportunities we had,” Biggs said. “Defensively we bent a little bit, but we didn’t bend too much. The defense did a nice job getting the ball back to the offense, but we just didn’t capitalize.”
The stinging upset left the Jaguars unbeaten with a 7-0 record on the season.
The Aggies, however, plan to keep up the fight.
“It was just one of those games,” Biggs said. “We have to continue to show resilience. That’s who we are. This is going to be another situation where we put our backs against the wall and we’ve got to come out fighting.”
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.