It wasn’t the hammer-and-tongs effort a hopeful UC Davis Homecoming crowd of 7,378 expected of their beloved Aggie football team.
When the balanced offense of visiting No. 11 Montana was finished, the Grizzlies had run up 418 yards in a 42-7 Big Sky Conference win at Aggie Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
While saying “Not so fast” to improving UCD, the Griz took early advantage of an interception and a poor punt, then made plays when they counted.
The Aggies (2-5, 2-1) came into the contest actually a game ahead of Montana (5-1, 2-1) in league standings. But after 60 minutes, a great divide between the two schools was apparent.
“We have to play better,” UCD head coach Ron Gould said afterward. “(They’re) one of the pre-eminent FCS football schools in the country and you have to capitalize on them.
“We weren’t as physical as we normally are on the offensive side of the ball. We’re a work in progress and still have a lot to improve on.”
It was the Aggies’ two-game win streak (over Idaho State and Southern Utah) that caught the attention of the Grizzlies, who buckled down and didn’t waste time in getting out to a 21-0 lead.
As solid as Montana’s start was, it was just as disappointing for the locals.
Brock Coyle intercepted an under-handed pass by UCD quarterback Randy Wright, setting up his Grizzlies with a first down at the Aggie 30. Wright was under pressure from linebacker Jordan Tripp when he threw his first pick of 2013.
It took Montana one play and seven seconds to score — thanks to a Jordan Johnson-to-Ellis Henderson 30-yard TD toss.
Later in the period, a Colby Wadman punt traveled just 22 yards and introduced Montana to Aggie territory at the 45.
Travon Van capped a six-play, 2:37 drive with an 18-yard TD run.
After that, UCD’s brilliant defense dug in for while.
However, there was no rest for the weary as the Aggie offense couldn’t get their counterparts off the field.
After keeping Montana at bay for almost 15 minutes, confusion on coverage between corner Shamawn Wright and safety Aaryn Jones resulted in another TD catch by Henderson, this time for 21 yards from Johnson just before halftime.
Johnson came into Saturday as the nation’s top efficiency passer (rating over 190) and was workmanlike again, hitting 12-of-20 for 163 yards, two scores and no picks.
Meanwhile, by intermission, UCD had gained but 88 yards on 26 plays, possessing the ball for only 10:31.
The locals went to the locker room down 21-0, recipients of only three first downs — then got an apparent “pep talk” from Gould.
The Aggies took the third-period kickoff and showed flashes of what they’re capable of.
A jaunty 70-yard journey took nine plays and 4:03 before Wright quick-stepped nine yards for UCD’s lone score of the night.
Remarkably, Wright, the senior not known for his mobility, had three carries for 30 yards on the drive.
“The thing that I was encouraged by is we came out in the second half, took the ball and drove it all the way down and scored,” Gould told the media. “That was something I challenged the offense to do and those guys went out and did it.”
On Montana’s next possession, UCD was thissss close to getting back in the game, but Jones’ fumble recovery at the Aggie 15 was negated by a face mask penalty.
From their own 9-yard line, UCD made the Grizzlies work before Jordan Canada blasted in on a fourth-and-goal carry.
When Ben Worst converted his fourth PAT — after missing two field goals — Montana had its hosts looking at a 28-7 deficit with just 20 minutes remaining.
Canada, who had 129 yards and two touchdowns, would seal the deal when he ran in from 24 yards on a play the Aggies had defended perfectly.
Canada took a fourth-quarter pitch and went left where he found a half-dozen would-be tacklers. The junior RB slammed on the brakes, reversed his field and found clear sailing around the far right.
Montana relief QB Shay Smithwick-Hann’s 41-yard TD run ended the scoring.
Wright finished 15-of-27 with two interceptions and just 126 yards. A third of those came on a 41-yard, first-half completion to T.J. King.
UCD running back Gabe Manzanares rushed for 60 yards on 15 carries and Manusamoa Luuga gained 41 yards on eight tries.
Safeties Charles Boyett and Jones, defensive end Nick King and linebacker Artice Nelson led the Aggies with seven tackles each.
Montana had a 7 1/2-minute time-of-possession advantage. It had been averaging almost 500 yards a game and had an arsenal that featured two A-game backs in Canada and Van (64 yards on this night) and one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS.
But curiously, the Grizzlies managed only three plays over 20 yards and none over 30.
“It’s hard to win college football games,” Nick King said. “You have to be perfect.
“We put a lot of work in. The crazy thing about football is you can play three good downs and that fourth down, something happens.
“I thought we matched up well, had a good game plan. We just didn’t execute.”
Next up for the Aggies is a conference outing at Northern Colorado (1-6, 0-3). The Bears lost to Idaho State, 40-26, on Saturday.
Notes: The Aggies wore pink socks and sported pink towels in recognition of October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaign. Aggie basketball standout Genevieve Costello (Class of 2009) was a breast cancer victim who died earlier this year. She was remembered by the Aggie women’s team, which observed the pre-game coin flip. … Former and current UC Davis athletic directors Greg Warzecka and Terry Tumey honored former Aggie player/coach/administrator Pam Gill-Fisher at halftime. Gill-Fisher has been chosen to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Collegiate Women’s Athletic Administrators.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected]