“I wish we could go back and play it all over again,” said UC Davis linebacker Steven Pitts after his Aggies were rolled in a 34-16 loss to visiting Cal Poly on Saturday at Aggie Stadium.
UCD had been improving almost every week since an 0-4 start.
Coming into this Big Sky Conference outing, the locals (3-7, 3-3) still hoped to finish the season at .500.
Certainly — with all the injuries the Mustangs had — the Aggies came into this game with confidence.
A 13-13 halftime score spoke to a pesky Cal Poly performance, but UCD had dominated time of possession (17:52-12:08), held the Mustangs to zero yards passing and had just tied the game on a 16-yard Randy Wright-to-Taylor Sloat TD throw.
The challenge ahead? Slow down the CP Ground Express, which by intermission had already put up 221 yards.
Obviously, from the final score, things didn’t go well for Aggie Nation in a dismal second half.
“Thoroughly disgusted,” first-year UCD coach Ron Gould replied when asked what he took away from the loss. “We had some chances to make some plays, but we got some players … that didn’t run the right route, didn’t get in the window and we throw a key interception.”
Gould went through a checklist of missed opportunities, including a critical dress-down of his defense, which consistently was beaten to the corners by Cal Poly’s triple-option — run by a substitute quarterback (Chris Brown) working for the most part without the team’s leading rusher (Kristaan Ivory) or top receiver of the past three years (Willie Tucker). Also missing was its dominating offensive lineman, the former Elk Grove High standout Lefi Letuligasenoa.
On Gould’s list:
* Three turnovers,
* Insufficiency on third downs,
* Lack of fervor running to the alleys on defense as Cal Poly knifed through UCD for 442 rushing yards and;
* A horrible second half in which the Aggies were outscored, 21-3.
“It starts with me,” Gould continued. “And I’m taking the loss.”
For Cal Poly, it started with Brown.
The sophomore rushed for 195 yards, including a 72-yard romp that set up a 1-yard touchdown from Kori Garcia in the third period.
Brown’s total was the most rushing yards by a Mustang since going Division I seven years ago — and the most ever by a Cal Poly QB.
Even with Brown’s contributions, the visitors couldn’t shake UCD until — with the Aggies trailing, 20-16, and driving — a disaster struck.
Cal Poly safety Alex Hubbard intercepted a Wright pass and went 29 yards into Aggie territory.
Nine plays later, Brown would score from 5 yards out and, with less than six minutes remaining, UCD was in a deep hole.
The Mustangs threw dirt on the Aggies when running back Gabe Manzanares lost a fumble on the next possession and Cal Poly (4-5, 3-2) drove 43 yards in eight plays, allowing Brown to score his third touchdown (again from 5 yards out).
“It all came down to executing,” said Pitts, who finished with eight tackles and forced a fumble. “We had our game plan and we knew where the ball was going every single time.
“You have to block those cuts (in the triple option) and execute. I felt like if we had wrapped up and … run through those alleys, we would have been fine.
“But as it turns out, we didn’t execute when we needed it the most.”
UCD forced Cal Poly into 14 third-down situations, but the Mustangs wriggled off the hook nine of those times.
This afternoon could have been a cause for celebration. Junior Manzanares became the first Aggie rusher to go over 1,000 yards since Matt Massari ran for 1,274 in 2002.
The City College of San Francisco transfer carried 29 times for 141 yards (including a 40-yard burst that keyed a drive leading to one of Brady Stuart’s three field goals).
For the campaign, Manzanares has 1,031 rushing.
“That running back is legit,” CP coach Tim Walsh said in praise of Manzanares. “He’s a tough son of a gun. He’s a great player.”
But Manzanares quickly acknowledged the mark and changed the subject.
“Obviously that’s an awesome achievement,” Manzanares said afterward. “I (attribute) all the success to the O-line, my fullback Dalton Turay, the tight ends and the receivers blocking down field. It’s a team effort.
“Ultimately, the biggest thing is to win the game and we didn’t win the game. That’s (what is) on my mind right now.”
Another sterling Aggie performance was turned in by safety Charles Boyett.
Making 14 tackles and turning in a couple effective punt returns, the senior drew Gould’s attention:
“He’s been a tremendous leader. The game is important to him. He works at it and cares. The guy is fearless. If he hits you, he’s going to (let you know it). He’s been a phenomenal player for us.”
Boyett leads the team with 73 stops. Pitts and safety Aarynn Jones are next at 54 each.
UCD finally gets a bye this week, then entertains North Dakota (a 48-27 loser to Northern Arizona) on Nov. 16. The Causeway Classic at Sacramento State Nov. 23 ends the regular season for both schools.
Notes: Tom Hemmingsen caught six more passes for 70 yards. The senior flanker now has 50 receptions for 522 yards and three scores. Wright was 18-for-31 for 188 yards, the TD to Sloat and two interceptions. Gould, however, was quick to point out “it’s not the quarterback. The throw (on the killer interception) was right where it’s supposed to be.” Wright, according to Gould, was throwing to “windows” in which receivers failed to show. … Brown had started three games for sidelined No. 1 Mustang QB Vince Moraga before being benched in favor of Folsom High state prep player of the year Dano Graves. But when Graves suffered a hamstring injury in last week’s 17-13 loss to NAU, Brown got another crack as starter. … Ivory carried the ball three times for 14 yards before fumbling thanks to a hard hit from Pitts. His ankle was re-injured on the play and CP used 10 different ball carriers on the night. … For one more year, the Golden Horseshoe trophy will shine in San Luis Obispo.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com