Aggie football victorious in a game for the ages

JULI PEREZ / AGGIE

UC Davis wins thriller in front of Homecoming crowd

The UC Davis football team pulled off an exhilarating 44-37 overtime victory over visiting Idaho State on Saturday evening, much to the delight of a packed house at Aggie Stadium on Homecoming weekend. In front of the third sellout in stadium history, the Aggies overcame a 16-point deficit and now sit in sole possession of first place in the Big Sky conference for the first time ever.

“No matter who we play, our guys have showed up, played hard and hung in there,” said UC Davis Head Coach Dan Hawkins. “We had some things go against us today, but then we were able to have a little resiliency and come back.”

On the final play of regulation, a 27-yard field goal try by Idaho State narrowly sailed to the right of the upright, sending the game into overtime.

UC Davis got the ball first and put the pressure on Idaho State by quickly finding the endzone. On a fourth-and-two play from the four-yard line, redshirt freshman running back Ulonzo Gilliam ran around the edge for a touchdown on a toss play to the left side of the field.

“It’s one of those plays that you only practice for one time at the end of the game for certain situations,” Gilliam said. “When he called that play, I knew it was going to work. I just got to the edge… and I was able to take it in.”

There was not a sliver of doubt in the minds of anyone on the Aggie sideline that the team was going to go for it on the fourth down, instead of kicking a field goal and opening the door for Idaho State to win the game.

“We were confident, at home with the crowd behind us, we had momentum, and we had a great plan,” Maier said. “We were out here in February doing pretend overtime with nobody around.”

Both Hawkins and Maier credited the team’s practice routines for preparing them to have success in a do-or-die situation.

“We do a lot of situational football in practice, so I didn’t really worry about it too much,” Hawkins said. “We do that kind of stuff every day in practice so our guys are very used to it.”

On the ensuing possession, the Aggie defense made stops on four consecutive plays to seal the win, which pushed the team’s record to 5-1 on the season. On a fourth-and-three play from the 18-yard line, senior cornerback Vincent White stepped in front of a short throw over the middle to break up the pass, and the entire Aggie sideline proceeded to streak across the field in absolute delirium.

“They had been coming at me all game and I gave up a few,” White said. “I knew I had to hunker down and make that play for the team.”

The team’s celebration continued into a raucous locker room party, with music blasting, dancing and pounding on the walls.

“It’s not so much the celebration of winning, but the celebration of the process to success,” Hawkins said. “You get in there and see the happiness of a whole body of work that’s been going on for a long time. It’s about how hard they worked, the summer they put in, their dedication and commitment, and how they go about things.”

After getting gashed by the Idaho State run game for three quarters, to the tune of 226 yards on the ground, the Aggie run defense buckled down late and held the Bengals to just 17 rushing yards the rest of the way.

The UC Davis offense took over at its own 23-yard line with three and a half minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, facing a 37-29 deficit. Three consecutive completions to sophomore wide receiver Jared Harrell got the Aggies into a rhythm, and a 20-yard catch by senior wide receiver Keelan Doss set them up at the six-yard line. Two plays later, Doss ran an out-route to the corner of the endzone for a wide-open touchdown to put the Aggies within two.

On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, Maier rolled out to his left and scanned the field for several moments before finding Harrell running across the back line of the endzone. Harrell made a tip-toe catch in bounds, behind a slew of defenders, and Aggie Stadium erupted in a frenzy.

“That’s a two point-specific play that we’ve been running for three or four weeks, but have never had to use it,” Maier said. “It’s just a play that’s been in the bank for us for a while. It’s just one of those progression reads. You start to your left and work all the way across the field until you see a guy that you feel is open and let it rip.”

With just over one minute remaining, the Bengals swiftly marched the length of the field on consecutive completions of 12, 28 and 17 yards. After a couple running plays bled the clock down to five seconds, Idaho State attempted a potentially game-winning field goal that steered to the right of the upright.

Maier’s touchdown throw at the end of the fourth quarter was his fifth of the game, which is a personal career-high. When it was all said and done, Doss’ 131-yard night was the fifteenth 100-yard game of his career, a new program record.

“For all the stuff you see physically with Keelan, there’s way more than that,” Hawkins said. “You see what a great person he is, how hard he works, how tough he is and what a great teammate he is. He’s a special kid.”

UC Davis jumped out to a quick 7-3 lead after the game’s first two drives. The Aggies looked to extend their lead with another quick scoring drive, but Maier was picked off at the two-yard line on a ball thrown into traffic and deflected up into the air. Idaho State returned the ball 83 yards on the play, before Maier made the tackle at the 15-yard line.

This turnover sparked a shift in momentum toward the visitors, as the Aggies missed an opportunity to make it a two-score game and then let the Bengals score the next 20 points. UC Davis showed some signs of life toward the end of the half, when Harrell’s 12-yard touchdown catch capped off a meticulous 72-yard drive to make it 23-14.

Idaho State came streaking out of the locker room and began the third quarter with a lightning-quick, four-play touchdown drive that included pass completions of 21, 20 and 25 yards.

The action slowed down for the majority of the third quarter until the Aggies countered with under four minutes left. Freshman wide receiver Justin Kraft hauled in a 45-yard bomb over the middle for his first career touchdown and also added a two-point conversion to cut the score to 30-22.

Idaho State did not flinch, putting together a game-long drive of over five minutes to take a 37-22 advantage.

Once again, UC Davis immediately battled back with another systematic scoring drive, culminating with a seven-yard touchdown catch by Gilliam at the eight and a half-minute mark.

The teams traded punts back and forth until the Aggies got the ball back and drove down for their game-tying score.

UC Davis will hit the road next weekend for a date with Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, before traveling to face Montana the week after. The Aggies will return home to play Northern Arizona on Nov. 3 in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Aggie Stadium.

 

Written by: Brendan Ogburn — sports@theaggie.org