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Thursday, August 5, 2021

Aggies struggle in final home game of season

JERO REAL / AGGIE

UC Davis football overwhelmed by first-place Southern Utah on senior night

The UC Davis football team suffered a painful 47-27 blowout loss to visiting Southern Utah, the top team in the Big Sky Conference, in its final home game of the season on Saturday evening.

It was a disappointing setback for the Aggies, who came into the contest with high hopes, having shown lots of improvement and promise over their two-game winning streak.

“This is part of the growing pain I think,” said sophomore quarterback Jake Maier. “You have to experience stuff like this before you can really get to where you want to be.”

It has been a season full of ups and downs for UC Davis, but there’s no doubt that the team is continuing to get better each and every time it steps on the field to compete, regardless of the outcome.

“The nature of competition is if you’re not willing to deal with some of that, you’ll never feel the joys and highs of the other side,” said head coach Dan Hawkins.

Before the kickoff, the team’s 14 seniors were honored as part of the Senior Day festivities, where they greeted family members at midfield and received standing ovations from the home crowd.

The 1982 UC Davis football team, the first in school history to reach the national championship game, was also honored before the game. Hawkins was a member of that squad and played fullback.

The Aggies fell behind early in the contest, trailing by 19 points at halftime, and never found any sort of rhythm on offense. They had a rough time stringing together first downs and sustaining drives and failed to convert on the majority of their third downs in the first half.

Defensively, the Aggies struggled to contain the explosive Southern Utah offense, which killed the home team with a slew of big chunk plays through the air. Overall, the incredible speed and athleticism of the Thunderbirds, combined with several instances of missed tackles in the open field by the Aggies, resulted in a lopsided defeat.

“They’re a good football team,” Hawkins said. “They’re good physically and well-coached. There’s a reason they’re in first place in the Big Sky.”

One of the lone highlights for the Aggies took place in the first quarter when junior wide receiver Keelan Doss recorded his 94th catch of the year, setting a new school single-season record. Doss finished the night with 11 receptions for 93 yards.

“[Doss] does all the minor details,” Maier said. “He does a great job of getting open, he reads zones really well, and he beats man coverage better than anybody I’ve seen.”

Maier also set a new single-season record for UC Davis, topping 300 passing yards in a game for the eighth time this year. The sophomore transfer from Long Beach City College has played a pivotal role in his first year, leading a high-powered UC Davis offense that is averaging over 32 points per game.

“This is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life to be a part of this, and I love every second of it,” Maier said. “I couldn’t be more motivated to get this place rolling and really be someone that makes a big impact here at UC Davis.”

Despite the frustrating result, the Aggies still have a lot left to play for in their season finale next Saturday against Sacramento State. With a victory in the Causeway Classic, UC Davis would close the campaign with a winning record for the first time since the 2010 season.

“It stings, but we’re still very motivated,” Maier said. “We have a lot on the line this last week coming up — a lot of pride and just a lot to play for.”

Early in the first quarter, each team traded interceptions on back-to-back plays. Junior cornerback Isiah Olave leaped in front of a Southern Utah wide receiver and high-pointed the ball to record the turnover at the five-yard line. On the very next play, the Aggies tried to run a quick wide receiver screen behind the line of scrimmage, but Maier’s pass was intercepted at the goal line for an easy Southern Utah pick-six.

Down 21-0, UC Davis started to get into a groove offensively midway through the second quarter. Backed up to their two-yard line, the Aggies put together their longest scoring drive of the season, traveling 98 yards in 18 plays and scoring their first points of the night on a four-yard touchdown reception by sophomore tight end Wesley Preece. Preece initially hauled in a 15-yard catch on a key fourth-and-13 play four plays earlier to keep the drive alive.

The Thunderbirds quickly responded with a 29-yard field goal and a safety just before halftime, pushing their lead to 26-7. In the final minute before the break, a UC Davis punt was blocked and the ball bounced through the back of the endzone, tacking on two more points to the Southern Utah lead.

On the opening drive of the second half, junior linebacker Mason Moe recived a targeting penalty and was subsequently ejected from the game for his hit on a Southern Utah receiver.

Southern Utah continued its momentum, adding 14 more points and never giving UC Davis much of a chance to close the gap.

Junior running back Namane Modise sparked the Aggies in the third quarter with a long 57-yard kickoff return that set them up in enemy territory at the 41-yard line. Four plays later, junior quarterback C.J. Spencer took a direct snap and ran four yards up the middle for a touchdown to bring UC Davis back within 20 points.

The Aggies had a chance to make it a two-possession game early in the fourth quarter, but Maier was picked off at the 11-yard line on a fourth down play, effectively sealing the victory for Southern Utah and putting any UC Davis comeback hope to rest.

The Aggies will have a week to prepare for a very hot Sacramento State team that has won four of its past five games. The Causeway Classic is scheduled for Saturday Nov. 18 with a 2 p.m. kickoff in Sacramento.

 

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org

 

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