UC Davis football defeats Cal Poly 31-28 on homecoming weekend
In front of the fourth-largest crowd in Aggie Stadium history, the UC Davis football team battled past the winless Cal Poly Mustangs, 31-28. The Aggie offense hummed early and the defense was able to fend off a late Cal Poly surge, securing UC Davis’ fourth win on the season. After losing to Cal Poly in each of the last two seasons, the Aggie victory also meant that UC Davis won back the Golden Horseshoe –– the rivalry trophy given to the winner of the UC Davis-Cal Poly clash each year.
The game kicked off in the middle of an unusually warm October afternoon. But the temperature did not interfere with the UC Davis offense, which found the endzone on each of its first three possessions. In fact, the Aggies scored on just the third play from scrimmage, when sophomore quarterback Jake Maier completed a 24-yard pass to his wide-open sophomore tight end, Wesley Preece. Maier found Preece streaking up the seam again, off a similar play-action fake, on the next UC Davis possession. The 28-yard hookup completed a two-play drive and was Preece’s second touchdown on the afternoon, putting the Aggies up 14-0 after only three minutes of play. Preece finished with five catches for 96 yards, garnering praise from head coach Dan Hawkins.
“[Maier] has got a couple guys here that he can really go to,” Hawkins said. “And he knows that he can count on [Preece] to really make a play. He’s a really solid blocker as well and we missed him last week. He’s a good blocker on the edge and a big, tall target and he’s very reliable with his hands. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of guys play in the National Football League that have played for us, and this guy is as good as those guys for sure. He’ll be another one.”
It took a third UC Davis score for the Mustangs to finally awaken. On the Aggies’ third possession, sophomore wideout Aaron Moore caught a ball from Maier on a hitch route, shook off his defender and dashed 50 yards down the sideline to the house. The Mustangs responded three drives later, completing a deep pass play to set the offense up on the UC Davis one yard line. Cal Poly ran the ball into the end zone two plays later, cutting the Aggie lead to 14 at the end of the first quarter. Cal Poly would score again on its next drive, as senior slotback Kyle Lewis caught a pass over the middle, broke away from a pair of missed tackles by UC Davis defenders and finished the 42-yard score.
After two straight punts, the UC Davis offense scored on a six play, 59 yard drive. Maier completed the drive when he tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the game, dropping a lofted ball in between defenders to allow Moore to make a diving, 30-yard touchdown grab.
“It’s funny cause sometimes the best plays in a game aren’t exactly how you draw them up,” Maier explained. “It’s just playmakers making plays. That’s something that Aaron Moore is really, really special at. He makes some of the most unbelievable plays I’ve ever seen, in practice and out here he puts on a showcase every now and then. That’s just me trusting him.”
A fumble on the next Cal Poly possession set up a 31-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Max O’Rourke, giving the Aggies a 31-14 lead. Facing this 17-point deficit, the Mustangs decided to start pounding the UC Davis defense with their misdirection running game. Cal Poly ran the ball on 13 of its 14 plays on its next drive, but again ended up coughing up the football –– this time on the UC Davis nine yard line. This second Mustang turnover preserved UC Davis’ lead going into the break, but the Aggies had an opportunity to add to their lead just before the half. Maier, staying aggressive as he often does, tried to force the ball downfield on the Aggies’ next possession, but was picked off in the endzone by a Cal Poly defender.
At the outset of the contest, UC Davis looked as if it was going to run away with the game. But the Aggies’ 21-point lead slowly evaporated as the game progressed, especially in the game’s second half.
Cal Poly opened the third quarter with a seven play, 75-yard drive that culminated in the team’s third touchdown. Just two plays later, Maier threw his second interception of the game and momentum really looked to be tilting in Cal Poly’s direction. The UC Davis defense, however, quickly shut down the next Mustang possession, forcing a punt after three plays.
The Aggies then drove 87 yards on their next drive, sparked by another big catch-and-run by Moore, who juked defenders and sprinted down to the Cal Poly eight yard line for a gain of 56. But UC Davis would come away with no points on this possession, as the team failed to convert on fourth and goal from two yards out instead of electing for the short field goal try.
This third quarter drive would be the last genuine scoring opportunity for UC Davis, as Cal Poly’s defense tightened up for the remainder of the contest. The Mustang offense continued to play tough as well. On their ensuing drive, the Mustangs looked as if they were going to be forced to punt backed up in their own end, but a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by the UC Davis defense kept the Cal Poly drive alive. The fresh start allowed the Mustangs to mount a 17-play, 99-yard drive that spanned into the final frame. Cal Poly’s senior fullback, Jared Mohamed, rumbled his way into the endzone from 12 yards out to cap the drive and make it a 31-28 ballgame with 14 minutes to play.
While the UC Davis offense struggled to move the ball in the fourth quarter, it was the defense that kept the Aggies ahead. The Aggies stopped the Cal Poly offense on downs in each of the Mustangs’ final two possessions. Pass break-ups from junior defensive back Isiah Olave and senior defensive back Keleen Culberson were key in halting Cal Poly’s attempts to at least tie the game. It took a fair amount of drama –– perhaps more than expected –– but the Aggies walked off the field Saturday night with the win. While acknowledging that this was not his team’s cleanest game, Hawkins was satisfied with the victory.
“I was really happy that we were able to win and learn, instead of lose and learn,” Hawkins said. “There are lessons always from every game. It’s not an art contest. At the end of the day, we scored more points than they did and that’s kind of what we were trying to do. It’s been awhile since we got it done against those guys, so I’m just happy for the seniors to go out on a positive note that way.”
Junior wideout Keelan Doss, despite not scoring, finished the game with a team-leading 14 catches for 145 yards, putting him over 1,000 yards on the season. His fellow receiver, Moore, had a career-high 159 yards and two TDs. Maier completed 33 of 43 passes for a UC Davis Big Sky-era record 459 yards. On the defensive side, senior linebacker Ryan Bua also set a Big Sky-era record with 16 total tackles.
“I just want to say, about those 16 tackles,” Bua said. “Some guy’s job is to sacrifice and take on a double team or submarine the blocks, so there’s a lot of sacrifice that goes into that.”
Currently ranked eighth in the Big Sky with a conference record of 2-3, UC Davis has some ground to cover in its final three games if it wants to move up in the standings. The Aggies will travel to Idaho State next Saturday and then return home for senior night against Southern Utah on Nov. 11. The kickoff for this final home game is set for 4 p.m.
Written by: Dominic Faria — email@example.com
Sports writer Brendan Ogburn contributed reporting.