Aggies look to make a statement and improve off of historic season
Led by head coach and Eddie Robinson Award winner Dan Hawkins, the UC Davis football team took a big leap last season, winning a share of the Big Sky conference and making the FCS playoffs for the first time in school history.
After an underwhelming 5-6 season in 2017, the Aggies began the 2018 season against San Jose State and became the first FCS team of the college football season to upset an FBS school. Junior quarterback and 2017 Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year Jake Maier threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns against the Spartans, leading the way to a 44-38 away victory. This explosive offensive performance by the Aggies, both through the air and on the ground, proved to be an accurate glimpse into what the entirety of the season would look like, as the offense’s lightning-fast tempo would made it difficult for opposing defenses to keep up.
Following a blowout win against the University of San Diego the next week, the Aggies fell to Pac-12 powerhouse Stanford, which was ranked ninth in the nation at the time. From that point forward, the team began a six-game win streak that saw them score an average of 47 points per game.
One of those wins was a thrilling overtime victory against the Idaho State Bengals in front of a sold out Aggie Stadium on Homecoming. After being down by 16 at one point, the Aggies stormed back and defeated the Bengals on an overtime touchdown by redshirt freshman Ulonzo Gilliam.
Despite a loss in the second to last week of the season to Eastern Washington, the Aggies entered their final regular season game with a chance to clinch a share of the Big Sky Conference title. In an unusual Causeway Classic game against rival Sacramento State in Reno, Nev., UC Davis won handily by a score of 56-13, clinching its spot in the FCS playoffs for the first time in program history.
With a 9-2 overall record, the Aggies earned a six seed in the FCS postseason, which meant that the team’s first ever playoff game would be held at Aggie Stadium against the Northern Iowa Panthers.
In front of a capacity crowd of over 10,000 people and broadcasted live on ESPN3, the Aggies took down the Panthers in a gritty 23-16 win. The historic victory allowed the team to advance to the quarterfinals, where UC Davis was slated for a rematch against conference rivals Eastern Washington.
The following Saturday in frigid Cheney, Wash., the Aggies went back and forth with the Eagles in a contest that proved much more compelling than the blowout loss UC Davis suffered earlier in the season. And with 1:13 remaining in the game, Davis took a 29-28 lead on a gutsy two-point conversion following a late touchdown from Gilliam. But Eastern responded quickly and, with 26 seconds remaining in the game, the Eagles scored a 35-yard touchdown to end the UC Davis season and its hopes of advancing to the FCS semifinals.
Despite the loss of All-American wide receiver and Walter Payton award finalist Keelan Doss, All-Big Sky Third team selection Isiah Olave, and a number of other graduated seniors who are now competing on NFL training camp rosters, the Aggies look to make it even further this season. Now entering his senior year with a Big Sky Conference Offensive Player award under his belt, Maier is ready to lead the Aggies once again. The quarterback threw for 3931 yards and 34 touchdowns and was a Walter Payton Award finalist.
In his backfield remains Gilliam, who had 1,361 total yards and 17 touchdowns in 2018. Alongside him will be Junior running back Tehran Thomas, who recorded 841 total yards and eight touchdowns in his own right.
Maier’s pass-catching corps will have much to prove in the wake of Doss’ departure, but it still features two key pieces that have the skillset to keep things rolling. Junior wideout Jared Harrell was the Aggies’ second-leading receiver in 2018, catching 62 passes for 896 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’ll be complemented by senior tight end Wes Preece, who had a breakout sophomore year in 2017 and tied Doss with nine receiving touchdowns last year.
As these Aggies prepare to have the offense perform up to the now high expectations, the entire team will have its work cut out for it to get back to the postseason. UC Davis’ non-conference schedule included a tilt against Pac-12 program Cal in its season opener, and a trip to Fargo, N.D. to take on the defending champions North Dakota State Bison.
The Aggies will begin conference play at home on Sept. 28 against Montana in what’s sure to be a quality matchup. The game will be broadcasted live on ROOT Sports.
Among other notable games this season is the UC Davis Homecoming game against Cal Poly on Oct. 12. The Aggies defeated the Mustangs last year by a wide margin, and hope to give Aggie fans another statement victory. Another major contest that will be held at Aggie Stadium this year is the Oct. 26 matchup against the Weber State Wildcats, a team that has finished ranked top five in the nation in each of the past two seasons. Similar to last year’s first battle with Eastern Washington, this game could have a major impact on the conference and who makes the playoffs.
The Aggies will finish off their season against Sacramento State in the 66th annual Causeway Classic. They will look to take home the causeway trophy for the eighth time in ten years. All in all, 2019 is sure to be another exciting year of Aggie football, as the program continues to rise under head coach Dan Hawkins. UC Davis students have free admission to each home game, so don’t miss out on a chance to cheer on your fellow Aggies.
Written by: Omar Navarro — email@example.com