Aztecs Conquer Aggies

DIANA LI / COURTESY

UC Davis football suffers road loss to San Diego State in season opener

The Dan Hawkins era of UC Davis football got off to a rough start, as the Aggies fell to San Diego State, 38-17, in front of a crowd of over 45,000 at Qualcomm Stadium on Saturday night.

UC Davis began the game with a flurry of energy, as sophomore quarterback Jake Maier completed a deep pass down the right sideline to junior wideout Keelan Doss for a gain of 41 yards. The Maier-Doss connection went on to become the theme for the Aggies offense for the night, as Doss led all receivers with eight catches for 181 yards.

Maier had some positive remarks about the duo’s obvious chemistry on the field, revealing that the two had worked arduously together over the summer to prepare for this season.

“He does his job very well,” Maier said. “And my job is to give him a chance — and give him the ball as much as I can. Tonight was just a start. [Doss] and I — and the entire offense — will continue to grow.”

But the offensive spark on this Aggie opening drive died out quickly. Just three plays later, a Maier pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by the Aztec secondary for the first turnover of the game. After the interception, SDSU mounted a 12-play drive that resulted in a 39-yard field goal that put the Aztecs up 3-0. The Aggie defense looked sharp on its first drive, bending but not breaking against the stout SDSU rushing attack.

But the floodgates began to burst open when the next UC Davis drive ended in a three-and-out. After the UC Davis punt, SDSU running back Rashaad Penny burst through the Aggie defense for a 61-yard score to give the Aztecs a 10-0 lead. Penny would end up with a monster night on the ground, racking up 197 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

The next UC Davis drive benefited from two 15-yard penalties by the Aztec defense, allowing the Aggies to get on the board for the first time with a 23-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Max O’Rourke. For now the Aggies trailed just 10-3, but this would be the team’s only points until the fourth quarter. Maier’s next pass of the game was intercepted by the Aztecs for a second time, setting the SDSU offense up deep in Aggie territory. The Aztecs reached the end zone just a few plays later to extend their lead. The next UC Davis drive ended in a failed fourth down conversion, giving Penny the opportunity to slice through the Aggie defense to score his second touchdown of the night for the Aztecs. The score at the half was 24-3 in favor of SDSU.

The Aztecs would come out of the half on fire, reaching the end zone in both of their first two second-half drives, including a 99-yard drive that culminated in SDSU’s third rushing touchdown, making it a 35-point contest with 4:46 left to play in the third quarter. It seemed as if the Aggie defense was withering away against the Aztec onslaught.

“They were running through a lot of arm tackles,” head coach Dan Hawkins said. “You have to tip your cap to them. I thought our [defensive] plan was good, we were packing the box a ton. We didn’t give up a lot of shots over the top. But they just kind of laid on us.”

With most of the SDSU starters sitting out the final fifteen, the UC Davis offense sprung to life, scoring on both of its fourth-quarter drives. Maier connected with Doss on a pass out to the flat on second and 17, allowing Doss to evade several defenders on his way to the house. Maier then threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to freshman wideout Logan Montgomery for the final points of the contest.

Maier, despite two turnovers, overall looked impressive against the superiorly-sized Aztec defense. He completed 19 of his 24 passes, throwing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He was also only sacked one time, a testament to how well the UC Davis offensive line, anchored by seniors Andrew Carriger and Julian Bertero, protected its quarterback from the talented Aztec defensive front.

“We’re hoping we carry that momentum for sure,” Maier said. “It was very positive to see [us score] and that just goes back to effort – playing a full 60 minutes. That’s our goal every night, to be able to start and finish the game the right way. We probably didn’t start the right way, but we definitely finished the right way [tonight], and we’ll take that into next week.”

UC Davis coaches and players alike acknowledged the game for what it was: a loss. Hawkins had some sobering thoughts on the night that got a little too far away from his team.

“When you play a team like [SDSU], your margin of error is very small,” explained Hawkins. “I was really proud of our guys’ effort. They battled, never quit. We knew they were a good running team, I don’t think we were able to tip the scales enough to get them out of there. They just pounded us. We had a few opportunities that we didn’t capitalize [on] — things we have to learn from.

The sour result, however, did not keep the Aggies from leaving the field hopeful with what they believe is to come of this season.

“Attitude was great, togetherness was great, work ethic was great,” continued Hawkins. “We can build on that. We have a chance to be a good football team, we just gotta hang together.”

The team’s star receiver also chimed in.

“As a team, we took away knowing that we can play with anybody,” Doss said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, it’s how we play. I think we demonstrated that tonight and we’ll get back to it next week and bounce back from this.”

Say all what you will that is negative about this UC Davis loss — and there are many negative points to make. But one thing is for certain: the team did not lose any confidence or excitement surrounding the season (and era, for that matter) of UC Davis football that is only just beginning.

The Aggies were back in Davis this past Saturday for the team’s home opener. UC Davis took on another team from the same city — the University of San Diego Toreros. Coverage of the game’s results will be published in an upcoming story.

Written by: Dominic Faria — sports@theaggie.org