UC Davis’ playoff hopes take crucial blow in ugly defeat
The UC Davis football team suffered a crucial 36-20 loss to visiting Weber State on Saturday night at UC Davis Health Stadium. The defeat, which drops UC Davis’ record to 4-5 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky, likely erases any sliver of hope the Aggies had left of landing a spot in the FCS playoffs.
Weber State, a top-five team in the country, suffocated the Aggies in every way imaginable for the full 60 minutes of play. The Wildcats had possession of the football for nearly 42 minutes and completely dictated the flow of the game on both sides of the ball. They ran twice as many offensive plays as the Aggies and were just as dominant on defense, holding UC Davis to season-lows in total yards (204), first downs (9), passing yards (160) and rushing yards (44).
“They’re big, strong, fast, physical and well-coached,” said UC Davis head coach Dan Hawkins. “They got the whole combination. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They played very good football.”
Instead of leaning on their productive run-heavy offensive attack, the visitors came out and set season highs in passing yards, completions and attempts. This was a stark contrast to what the Aggie defense might have been expecting leading up to the game.
“They do enough things to throw you off balance, so they don’t just stay static the whole time,” Hawkins said. “They’re going to mix it up.”
UC Davis did an impressive job shutting down the vaunted Wildcat running game, allowing only 3.2 yards per carry on an astonishing 52 attempts. Hawkins was proud of the performance of his defense, which recorded three sacks and a turnover and kept the team within striking distance by forcing Weber State to settle for five field goals in the red zone.
“There was a lot of leadership and guys stepped up and showed their heart,” Hawkins said. “They were great against a physically-imposing team.”
The Aggie offense was never able to find its footing on Saturday, turning over the ball twice and amassing just 35 total yards in the first half. UC Davis didn’t score its first offensive touchdown until midway through the third quarter and ended up punting on seven of its 12 drives. It was a truly forgettable night at the office and one that established season lows in almost every major statistical category.
It’s no secret the team has been hit hard by the injury bug, as key contributors like running back Tehran Thomas and wide receiver Carson Crawford have missed large chunks of time. But nobody inside the home locker room will use that as an excuse for any struggles on the field.
Despite a valiant defensive effort for the majority of the evening, it was apparent that the Aggies were significantly outmatched. The final score does not even tell the whole story of how lopsided the contest really was. Nonetheless, Hawkins could not have been more encouraged by his team’s attitude and approach in the face of adversity.
“I’m super proud of our guys,” Hawkins explained. “That’s probably as proud as I’ve been of them since I’ve been here. Just the resolve, fight, sticking together and not batting an eyelash. That’s Aggie Pride.”
Weber State received the opening kickoff and appeared to go three-and-out, but caught the Aggies off-guard with a fake punt that extended the drive and led to a touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, sophomore defensive back and return specialist Jaylin White caught the ball deep in his own endzone and promptly sped 100 yards for the special teams touchdown to tie the game. This would prove to be the lone first half bright spot in an evening full of horrors for UC Davis.
Later in the quarter, UC Davis surrendered its first turnover of the game when sophomore running back Ulonzo Gilliam lost a fumble, ultimately leading to a field goal by Weber State.
Later on, the Aggies got even with an interception in the back of the end zone by sophomore corner Devon King, but, unfortunately, gave the football right back on the next play when senior quarterback Jake Maier was picked off an errant throw behind his wide receiver. Weber State took advantage with another field goal and eventually carried a 16-7 lead into the halftime intermission.
At the start of the second half, White fumbled the opening kickoff and Weber State recovered the ball before firing another field goal to make it 19-7.
Several minutes later, the Aggie offensive finally started to show signs of life with a 75-yard scoring drive, capped off by junior wide receiver Jared Harrell’s third touchdown catch of the season. All of a sudden, UC Davis was only trailing 19-14 with an opportunity to erase all of its misfortunes of the previous two and a half quarters.
“I never thought we were out of it, from the start when they jumped ahead,” Gilliam said. “We play hard when we’re behind and never give up when we’re ahead.”
But the Wildcats made sure there would be no happy comeback story for the Aggies and swiftly rattled off the next 17 points to put the finishing touches on their fourth straight victory in this series.
UC Davis made the score look a little more respectable with a two-yard touchdown catch by junior fullback Christian Skeptaris on the team’s final possession.
After nine grueling weeks of physical and mental duress, the Aggies have finally reached their bye week. The team hopes to use the extra time to get healthy, reset and prepare itself for a trio of tough opponents to close out the season. Each team — Portland State, Montana State and Sacramento State — has a realistic shot to make the playoffs and will have everything to lose when they face UC Davis.
The Aggies return to action on Nov. 9 when they take on Portland State in the City of Roses.
Written by: Brendan Ogburn — firstname.lastname@example.org