UC Davis quarterback Randy Wright helped give his head coach — and fellow Aggie quarterback — Bob Biggs the ultimate retirement gift on Saturday night: a win over longtime rival Sacramento State in Biggs’ final game at the helm.
Wright battled through a rough start to lead the UCD offense’s only touchdown drive of the night, finding tight end Taylor Sloat for the go-ahead score at Aggie Stadium. He followed the touchdown pass up with a completion to Bryon Gruendl — normally a linebacker — on a two-point conversion attempt that made it 34-27, completing the scoring midway through the fourth quarter of the 59th Causeway Classic.
“(Sending Biggs off with a win) was on the quarterbacks’ minds a lot,” Wright said. “He was a great quarterback here (1970-1972) and he’s in our meeting rooms. I wanted to go out there and play really well for him and the team so we could get the win.”
Wright didn’t play as well as he would have liked, finishing 14-of-37 for 181 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but his teammates more than made up for it. Linebacker Jordan Glass returned a blocked extra-point attempt all the way to the end zone to give his team its first two points, and made the game-clinching interception in the final moments.
Cornerback Jonathan Perkins added another interception and returned a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown, and a host of other Aggies turned in solid individual performances to give Biggs and the UCD seniors one last hurrah.
Biggs, who will now explore his other interests in life after spending nearly 40 years with the football program as a quarterback, assistant coach and head coach, expressed his gratitude to the team for the final win in the moments after the game.
“Trying to help this team win, that’s all that I was thinking about really,” Biggs said. “Now that it’s over and we’ve won, I feel very calm inside. I think it’s just because I’ve been so fortunate. There are so many words to say how much gratitude you have, but it’s calmness, really.”
Biggs probably felt anything but calm for most of the game, which was about as bizarre and exciting as any in recent memory.
After Sac State’s De’jon Coleman scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter, kicker Edgar Castaneda had his extra-point attempt blocked by Dre Allen. Glass corralled the ball in stride and ran it all the way back for a defensive PAT, making the score 6-2.
The Aggies then got a field goal from kicker Brady Stuart and a touchdown from linebacker Steven Pitts, who recovered a fumble in the end zone.
That TD came on a play that started with a 63-yard punt by Colton Schmidt. Hornet return man Morris Norrise caught the ball at his own 19 and returned it a yard before it slipped out of his hands. In the ensuing scramble, the ball was knocked all the way into the end zone, where Pitts wrestled it away from Norrise for the score.
After Colton Silveria took a carry up the gut of the Sac State defense for a successful two-point conversion and Stuart nailed a 45-yard field goal, the Aggies led 16-6 with 1:20 to play in the first half.
The Hornets responded by going 75 yards in one minute and scoring on a touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Safron to receiver D.J. Maciel with 20 seconds to go, but their joy was short-lived.
On the ensuing kickoff, Perkins corralled the ball and rocketed down the sideline for an 81-yard touchdown that made it 23-13 at halftime.
The score at intermission had Sacramento State baffled, considering it came in spite of the fact that the Hornets had outgained the Aggies 246 to 105 yards in the first half and held Wright to 7-of-21 passing. Hoping to fix the discrepancy, the Hornets spent much of the second half aggressively moving the ball down the field and scoring a pair of touchdowns — on an 8-yard pass from Safron to Shane Harrison and on a 2-yard run by Ezekiel Graham — to go ahead 27-26 with 13:25 to go.
After Graham’s touchdown, things appeared to get even worse for the Aggies. In an effort to get UCD back on top, Wright tried to squeeze a pass into double coverage and was intercepted by the Hornets’ Markell Williams, who returned the ball to the Aggies’ 37-yard line.
But the Hornets gave it right back on the very next play on a trick scheme that failed miserably. Norrise got the ball on a reverse and threw to the end zone, but UCD defensive back Phillip Thrappas managed to box out the intended receiver and intercept the pass, resulting in a touchback that set the Aggies up on their own 20-yard line.
At that point, though it had 26 points, UCD had yet to score an offensive touchdown. That, however, was about to change.
Wright found Sloat over the middle for a 14-yard completion, before running back Marquis Nicolis cut back and broke through the Hornet defensive line for a 23-yard gain. Silveria followed that up with a 22-yard rush of his own to set the Aggies up on the Sac State 21-yard line.
After Nicolis churned out a 4-yard run and drew a personal foul, Wright again went to Sloat, who finished with seven catches for a career-high 109 yards. On this play, UCD faked a screen pass and Sloat’s defender bit, leaving the junior wide open in the end zone. Wright hit him between the numbers and UCD added the two-point conversion to take the lead for good.
The Hornets went three-and-out on their next possession, but knocked Wright back on a fourth-down quarterback sneak to force a turnover on downs deep in their own territory.
Sac State drove 32 yards before Glass ended it. When the Hornets attempted a quick, one step-drop slant route, Safron let go of the ball before he even saw Glass, who snagged it and returned it 33 yards.
“We were playing man, with three players underneath. The (running) back went away from me, so I was basically the free player, dropping off, just reading the (quarterback’s) eyes,” Glass said. “And I just stepped right in front of that slant. I was shocked he threw it.”
In all, UCD had three interceptions, with Thrappas, Glass and Perkins corralling one each, as well as five sacks.
Schmidt, the punter, finished his Aggie career on a high note, punting seven times and averaging 49 yards a kick to finish with a season average of 44.5, breaking his own school record.
All of it proved enough to get Biggs his 144th and final victory. The 20th-year coach finished his career with the second-most wins in Aggie history, trailing only his mentor, Jim Sochor, who was in attendance on Saturday night.
And though he coached UCD in more than 200 games and spent nearly 40 years with the team, Biggs said he felt like it had all gone by so fast.
“When I hear the word 40, I mean, it doesn’t even sound real. It’s like when I hear 61 (his age), it doesn’t sound real either,” Biggs said, laughing. “Like everything in life, I think when you have time to sit back and kind of reflect, maybe the impact will be greater.”
But probably not as great as the impact Biggs had on UCD football.
Notes: The Aggies finished the season with an overall record of 4-7, while Sacramento State finishes at 6-5. … Safron threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns, completing 37 of 67 passes, both of which are school records. … Sochor visited the press box just before halftime. Prior to the return by Perkins, he said: “Let’s see if we can run this back.” … Athletic trainer Jeff Hogan, who has worked closely with football and tennis teams at UCD, also announced his retirement at the end of the year. … Sacramento State linebacker Jeff Badger give Thursday’s Causeway Classic Kickoff Banquet its biggest laugh. Badger’s father Lance was an Aggie linebacker in the mid 1980s: “Dad always reminds me he was an Aggie. When I told him that I was going to play at Sac State, he said that was fine — but I’m not going to root for you.”
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org