GREELEY, Colo. — For one half of football on Saturday, UC Davis looked like one of the best Football Championship Subdivision squads on the planet.
In what would become a 34-18 victory over Northern Colorado, the Aggies put together 30 minutes that saw them do the following:
* Build a 24-0 lead by halftime,
* Run four scoring drives, each traveling at least 74 yards (one took 17 plays),
* Win the time-of-possession battle 21:42-8:18,
* Convert 9-of-10 third downs, and
* Silence a Parents and Alumni Weekend crowd of 4,196.
“I am extremely pleased with how hard the young men came out and competed (Saturday),” UCD coach Ron Gould told The Enterprise. “I told them three things: 1. to compete; 2. have the right mindset; 3. focus on the details.”
Aye, aye captain!
In one of his best games in four years as an Aggie starter, quarterback Randy Wright threw for 310 yards and four touchdowns.
Taylor Sloat — the preseason pick as the top tight end in the Big Sky Conference — caught 28- and 16-yard scoring tosses in the first period. They were Sloat’s first TDs of 2013.
Ol’ Faithful, running back Gabe Manzanares, rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries. He now has 730 yards for the season. The junior transfer from City College of San Francisco also caught three balls for 48 yards.
On defense, cornerback Shamawn Wright broke up three passes, the Aggies distributed 54 tackles between 22 contributors and Gould’s “follow-the-process” coaching style paid another big dividend.
UCD is now 3-5 overall and, more importantly 3-1 in conference.
The Bears (1-7, 0-4) have now lost seven straight.
Taking the opening kickoff, the locals went 74 yards in only six plays, scoring on Sloat’s 28-yard reception from Wright.
A UNC three-and-out — thanks to plays by Aggies linebacker Steve Pitts and cornerback Dre Allen — gave UCD another chance.
Again it went 74 yards, this time in 12 plays (consuming 6:29). And again it was Sloat for the score.
“We sat down with the offensive staff this week and I said ‘We have to take advantage of our tight ends,’ ” Gould explained. “We put some things in and Randy did a great job of finding them (Saturday). (Offensive coordinator Kevin) Daft did a great job calling the plays … and it was a great job executing.”
At the beginning of the season, Gould said his tight-end corps was “a heart of this team.” And over the first seven weeks, Sloat, Mark Martindale, Cameron Sentence and Ryan O’Holleran have been doing a terrific job for the Aggies — blocking.
But on this day, Sloat caught three balls for 57 yards — including a diving, one-handed snag to give UCD a much-needed first down on one drive.
O’Holleran, Sentance and Martindale made one grab each, but their presence was again felt in the run game as all contributed while the Aggies pounded out 178 yards on the ground and a season-high 488 total yards of offense.
“It was a premium for us to find the ends,” Gould continued. “They’ve been doing a lot of blocking, so it was great to see them get rewarded by actually catching the ball.”
Sloat was asked about his first scores of the season:
“It felt nice, but the road win felt much better. Two road wins in a row is a good feeling for us. Last year, we had a couple mishaps on the road. We’re glad we pulled this one out.”
UCD’s wideouts kept the chains moving, too.
Tom Hemmingsen, the Monte Vista High (Danville) product who missed all of last year with a foot injury, was Wright’s primarily target with six catches for 64 yards. (He has 34 catches for 371 yards and two TDs for the season).
One of Hemmingsen’s grabs was a twisting. diving effort that was so improbable, even Aggie fans wondered if he caught it. The referees said yes, it went for a 27-yard third-down conversion and Brady Stuart went on to kick a 19-yard field goal — putting UCD in control 17-0 at 8:41 of the second period.
Another Aggie receiver, Corey Galindo, had five receptions for 52 yards and a touchdown from 20 out, while T.J. King continued his sterling play with a 13-yard TD catch and stats that read four receptions for 46 yards.
Meanwhile, Northern Colorado was hoping to showcase their Big Three receivers — Jace Davis, Dimitri Stimphil and Will Jefferson Jr.
Both Stimphil and Davis came in with more than 600 yards receiving, nine TDs between them and 18 and 31 consecutive-game streaks in which they had caught a pass.
Stimphil was QB Seth Lobato’s favorite target (7-101-1), but the Aggies made Davis wait until four minutes remained before he caught his only pass of the afternoon (good for 18 yards).
Jefferson settled for 44 yards on five catches.
Lobato was ranked among the nation’s top FCS signal-callers, averaging 300 yards a game. But UCD held the Bear bomber to an 18-for-31 outing and only 231 yards and a late, fourth-quarter TD to Stimphil.
In the first half, UNC had just 61 yards through the air.
Aggie safety Aarynn Jones said he and his secondary pals knew the Bears had good receivers, “It was just us focusing on what calls they had for us. (Defensive coordinator Bert Watts) and everybody who put into the game plans knew what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. It was just executing.”
Safety Charles Boyett had seven tackles, and Jones added six while cornerback Jonathan Perkins made two sterling defensive plays among his three tackles and suffocating coverage.
Shamawn Wright, the corner who mostly comes off the bench, knocked down three passes and dogged Davis and Jefferson on several others.
Next up, a Saturday trip to Montana State. So, coach, what about those Big Sky co-leaders?
“They’re a fine football team,” Gould said just before boarding the bus to the Denver airport. “But I’m just going to enjoy today. I’ll worry about them tomorrow.”
Notes: There were no turnovers in the game, nor was there a sack. … Gould says his team needs to work harder on taking its energy into the fourth quarter. He doesn’t care for the way his crew has finished a handful of games this season — even in victory. … Randy Wright said he was “glad to see our offense have fun out there. We played loose.” And UNC tried to loosen up Randy even a little more. The QB was hit hard several times — including being speared by CB Courtney Hall as he scrambled out of bounds in third period. Hall was ejected and Wright threw a 13-yard TD pass to King on the next play. “UNC is a physical team,” Wright said. “They brought a lot of pressure. I was getting hit. Smiling. Getting up. Wipe the dirt off. It was just fun .. and a good win.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com