By Paul Delaney
As UC Davis head football coach Bob Biggs approached the final road game of his long career with the Aggies, he knew his team needed to get the big plays that had eluded them so far in 2102.
His squad responded — in the first half — but in the end it was Eastern Washington that got the big plays when it counted to post a 31-28 Big Sky victory Saturday on a cold 30-degree day at Roos Field in Cheney. Still the Eagles weren’t secure until David Gaylord blocked UCD kicker Brady Stuart’s 52-yard field goal try with 46 seconds remaining.
The 3-point loss was just another in a string of heartbreaking defeats Biggs and his team have had to endure in the veteran coach’s final season at the helm of the Aggies, who are now 2-5 in conference play and 3-7 overall.
Four of the UCD’s losses have come by just 22 total points.
“Another tough loss. It’s been the story of this year,” Biggs said. “I thought we were playing real spirited, tough football (Saturday),” Biggs said. “It’s a shame, I feel badly for the players and the coaching staff because they worked so hard.”
After watching his team dominate the No. 5 ranked Football Championship Subdivision Eagles (6-1, 8-2) through the first half, and lead 25-14 with what could have been a backbreaking touchdown from Dalton Turay eight seconds before intermission, Biggs saw Eastern Washington storm back.
The Eagles’ Jimmy Pavel booted a 45-yard field goal with 11:39 to play in the third period to cut the advantage to 25-17. Stuart answered with his 21-yarder to put the Aggies back up 28-17 with 7:01 to go in the quarter.
But settling for those three points was probably the turning point in the game. UCD drove to the Eastern Washington 4-yard line but quarterback Randy Wright — under pressure from Andru Pulu — saw his third-down pass to Tim Benton fall incomplete.
Just over three minutes later, the Eagles followed with a 51-yard Kyle Padron to Greg Herd touchdown pass to trim it to 28-24.
“The one that really hurt us was when we had them on third and 15 and they hit the 51-yard touchdown,” Biggs said. “We were really playing pretty well up to that point.”
After three straight three-and-outs by the Aggies, Eastern’s starting quarterback Vernon Adams came back in and capped a five-play, 66-yard drive that took just 1:32 with his 9-yard naked bootleg to score the winning TD with 8:13 to go.
Adams, a redshirt freshman, finished 9-of-17 for 142 yards passing, but had 23 key yards rushing, including the touchdown scamper. Southern Methodist University transfer Padron’s appearance in relief generated another 100 yards on 10-of-14 passing. Herd had seven catches for 101 yards and Kaufman added 109 yards, including a 39-yard catch that set up Eastern Washington’s second touchdown.
“We’re so close, we just can’t get over the hump against some good teams too,” Biggs said.
The Aggies got off to a slow start, trailing 14-3 after the first quarter on a pair of touchdowns from Demitrius Bronson sandwiched around Stuart’s 41-yard field goal. UCD’s 3-pointer was set up by a fumble recovery from Phillip Thrappas.
The locals then reeled off 22 points in the second period and seemed to have the Eagles on their heels. Corey Galindo snuck behind the secondary and Wright found him for a 72-yard scoring play 1:50 into the second quarter, cutting the lead to 14-11 after a 2-point conversion.
Turay scored from a yard out on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 7:36 left in the second period, then burrowed through a scrum at the goal line for that huge TD as the half ended.
“Dalton Turay was running, he was breaking tackles,” Wright said. “He was giving us inspiration.”
The Aggies not only held the big lead at the half, but thoroughly dominated Eastern Washington through the first two quarters statistically.
They held a 278-178 edge in total yards and won the time of possession 20:33-9:19. For the game, UCD had a 435-361 edge in total yards as Wright was 24-of-43 for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Galindo had four catches for 113 yards and Turay carried 12 times for 58 yards to lead the ground game.
But the picture changed quickly in the second half, according to Wright:
“In the third quarter they started blitzing us a little more,” Wright said. “They caught us in some bad protections and I took a few sacks.”
The Eagles win, along with Northern Arizona’s 35-29 loss to Southern Utah in triple-overtime and Montana State’s wild 65-30 win over Portland State sends the Big Sky into its final week of play with a four-way tie at the top. Eastern Washington, NAU, Cal Poly and Montana State are all 6-1.
The Aggies, meanwhile, come home for the final game of Biggs’ career, the 59th Causeway Classic against Sacramento State (4-3, 6-4). Kickoff Saturday is set for 3 p.m.