68.1 F

Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Six turnovers thump the Aggies in NCAA playoff loss to South Dakota State

UC Davis threw six interceptions and allowed the Jackrabbits to run for 433 yards, ending their playoff run

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

After starting the season 8-1, UC Davis’ rollercoaster ride comes to an end on the road in their second FCS playoff appearance in program history falling to South Dakota State 56-24. 

The 8-4 Aggies were coming into the game on a two game losing skid, meanwhile the 9-3 Jackrabbits appeared in their 10th straight FCS playoffs.

“Give those guys a ton of credit, they’re a deserving team, well coached, a lot of really good players and an opportunity to have a home game,” Head Coach Dan Hawkins said.

UC Davis was competitive for the first two quarters, until their six turnovers became the story of the game. The Jackrabbits intercepted quarterback Miles Hastings twice and backup Hunter Rodrigues four times enroute to a dominant performance. 

In addition, the Jackrabbits rushed for a season-high 433 yards behind the leading rusher in the FCS Pierre Strong contributing 175 yards and Isaiah Davis adding a staggering 217 yards. 

“We obviously knew what they were trying to do coming into the game. They were going to try to run the ball until we stopped it,” said sixth-year defensive back Erron Duncan. “I think there were a bunch of factors initially, they started doing some things up front that we weren’t used to.”

Duncan added, “having them commit to the run throughout the game really put pressure on us to tackle and to make sure to have discipline.”

Hastings, the redshirt freshmen for Davis, opened the game with a pair of excellent completions to C.J. Hutton down the middle for nine yards and a dart Blake Thorpe for 23 yards. The following play highlighted Ulonzo Gilliam’s running abilities on a zone play as he shifted in and out of tackles swerving left and right making defenders miss for a gain of 19 yards. 

UC Davis settled for a 32 yard field goal to go up 3-0. The Aggies started hot going for 60 yards on nine plays in under three minutes of possession. 

The Jackrabbits would respond by rushing the ball to the 40 yard line. Under center for South Dakota State, Chris Oladokun botched the snap at the line of scrimmage resulting in a fumble, however Oladokun dove on the ball for the recovery. Ultimately, South Dakota State would settle for a 50 yard field goal attempt by Cole Frahm, which he missed.

Hawkins was fired up on the sidelines raising his arms in celebration to a great start as the Davis sideline jolted with excitement. 

UC Davis would go three and out on the following drive, squandering an opportunity to extend their lead. South Dakota State would respond with a stiff arm from their tailback Davis for a 53 yard run down the sideline to the eight yard line. Their elite running back Strong finished the drive with a two yard rushing touchdown to put the home team ahead 7-3 in the first quarter. 

Later in the quarter, both teams would go back and forth showcasing their defense however with 37 seconds left in the first the Jackrabbits would yet again miss another field goal. This time, from 56 yards giving the Aggies the ball back at the 39 yard line with a chance to capitalize on missed opportunities from the hometeam. 

The Aggies drive would go into the second quarter however, they could not generate a first down with a combination of Trent Thompkins and Hastings under center. Punter Finn Rudd for UC Davis punted the ball 41 yards to the 13 yard line with Tyler Feldkamp waving for the fair catch. Surprisingly, the ball bounced off Feldkamp’s hands into the Aggies’ Jordan Perryman hands at the 10 yard line.

The play in itself was incredible which provided a golden opportunity for UC Davis to capitalize once again. Hastings surely took advantage with his poise and accuracy in the pocket that led the Aggies down the field. On 4th and 4 at the four yard line Hastings faked the jet sweep and threw a four yard touchdown pass to CJ Hutton. The home crowd was stunned and the momentum swung to the visiting team as the arena became silent. 

The Aggies would go up 10-7 early in the second quarter with a gutsy call from Hawkins electing to go for it on fourth down. Things were going right for Davis while the Jackrabbits looked discombobulated. 

In the next series, South Dakota State would march down the field to score a rushing touchdown by Isaiah Davis to take control of the game making it 14-10. That drive saw Strong go off for 62 rushing yards on three attempts with Davis punching in the 18 yard touchdown in just four plays. 

South Dakota State’s defense imposed their will on the Aggies offense, especially on Hastings. The insurmountable pressure from the pass rush startled Hastings into making rash decisions forcing him to get rid of the football rather quickly. 

The Jackrabbits took advantage with a trick play that saw their star running back Strong toss a 10 yard touchdown to quarterback Oladokun to go up 21-10. A drive that generated 79 yards in six plays seemingly put UC Davis in a rabbit hole.  

With 6:27 left to play in the second quarter, UC Davis abandoned their run game instead opting to use Hastings’ arm. That would prove to be a costly mistake with Hasting’s throwing an interception while getting hit off a blitz from the defense. 

Taking advantage of the turnover, Oladokun would throw a perfect pass down the middle to third-year wide receiver Jadon Janke for a 33 yard touchdown adding to their lead, 28-10. The home team took full control of the game scoring 21 unanswered points while sucking the life out of the Aggies.

The following series was an opportunity for Hastings to redeem himself using the shotgun formation. The ball snaps the pocket holds as he rolls to the right and erratically throws toward four defenders that resulted in an interception, making that back to back picks in two consecutive drives. The second interception would end the day for Hastings, as he finished 8/18 with 72 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions completing 44% of his passes. 

Late in the second quarter, with 3:05 left to play, kicker Frahm for South Dakota State missed his third field goal of the day from the 21-yard line. With UC Davis desperately needing some points before the half, Hawkins inserted a familiar face, third-year Rodrigues who is known for his mobility outside the pocket. 

Rodrigues was the spark the team needed leading the Ags down the field with completions of 4, and 34 yards while rushing on two attempts for 30 yards. Gilliam capped off the drive with a two yard rushing touchdown to cut the lead 17-28.

The half came to a close with the Jackrabbits rushing for 275 yards and 83 passing yards compared to UC Davis’ 114 rushing yards and 124 passing yards. 

Going into the third quarter UC Davis stopped the South Dakota State’s offense with a quick three and out to force a punt. With Rodrigues under the helm the team seemed to get their swagger back. 

On 3rd and 5 with Rodrigues under center and seven defenders on the line of scrimmage, one of them came across unblocked, blindsiding Rodrigues and rocked hard as he threw. The ball bounced onto Adam Bock for a pick 6 worth 39 yards making it 35-17. 

With another opportunity still in the third quarter, Rodrigues again would throw an interception marking his second interception of the evening, on back to back drives.

South Dakota State would pull away rushing the ball with ease down the field and a touchdown pass to pull away 43-17 a drive that ensued 63 yards in nine plays.

Within the first minute of the fourth quarter, Rodrigues again threw an interception in the endzone making it his third pick of the night.

The Jackrabbits thumped UC Davis with their strong rushing attack thrashing the Aggie defense scoring off their own fumble to make it 49-17. 

To make matters worse, cornerback Dalys Beanum once again picked off Rodrigues, amazingly spinning and twirling through defenders making the entire defense miss as he zig-zagged all the way to the house for a 59 yard touchdown, marking his third interception of the night while Rodrigues threw his fourth and final interception of the evening.

This was by far the worst interception of the bunch by Rodrigues evidently overthrowing his receiver by a wide margin into coverage. Overall, UC Davis committed six turnovers with two being pick sixes that ultimately doomed the Aggies. 

“We don’t ever quit, that’s what we go by,” Gilliam said. “I’m proud of our boys. We never really gave up, just things didn’t go our way.”

With the game out of reach Rodrigues would find the endzone for a 15 yard rushing touchdown, 24-56. The Aggies final drive generated 75 yards in 13 plays. Rodrigues would finish the game 19/27 for 146 yards, four interceptions completing 70% of his passes, one rushing touchdown along with 62 rushing yards.

Gilliam, the Aggies second all time leading rusher finished the night with one rushing touchdown, 73 rushing yards on 10 attempts, 55 receiving yards along with eight catches.

“No one likes getting bumped out of the playoffs. No one likes losing your last game but again you talk about developing a championship program, I think we’re getting there,” said Hawkins.

“We’re making strides we’ve got a long way to go but clearly the effort and the courage and the commitment of our guys, their buy in, I mean it’s second to none I wouldn’t trade these dudes for anybody I love every one of these guys, they’re great people, they’re great football players,” Hawkins said.

UC Davis had a great season with the program moving in the right direction making the FCS postseason twice in three years. They started by upsetting Tulsa, an FBS team, and going 8-1. However, with the future uncertain at the quarterback position, the playoff loss raises more questions than answers. Who will be under center next season? That remains the biggest question heading into the offseason.

Although the quarterback position remains uncertain, the program at UC Davis is in good hands with a coach who is proud to be an Aggie such as Hawkins. He emphasizes courage, the desire to face the challenges that life throws at you and being resilient when adversity comes knocking. That is what it means to be an Aggie.

“We’ll lick our wounds — that’s part of being in the fire, that’s part of being in the arena and so much of what we do is teaching our guys about life and response to adversity. I hope they always have the courage to get in the fire and sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s joyous but you just gotta keep getting there,” said Hawkins.

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here