Life — and apparently football games — can turn on a dime.
Looking like it was on its way to its first victory of the season, UC Davis (0-3) coughed up two interceptions for late touchdowns and lost to visiting Northern Arizona, 21-10, at Aggie Stadium on Saturday.
A hopeful home-opening crowd of 4,932 saw the Aggies nursing a 10-7 lead with less than 10 minutes left when, suddenly, disaster struck.
Lumberjack Lucky Dozier picked off a fourth-quarter Jimmy Laughrea pass and went 78 yards to turn the tide with 9:05 left.
With time waning, it was Marcus Alford whose 47-yard interception return gave NAU its final margin of victory.
It was a loss that cuts to the quick …
“It’s amazing (our) kids. They continue to fight. You can see it in their eyes, the belief that I’ve been talking about,” a reflective and deeply disappointed UCD coach Ron Gould told The Enterprise after the game. “The energy from the kids, coming on and off the field. … They just kept saying, ‘Coach, we got it. Coach, we got it.’ ”
In the end, they didn’t.
Despite out-rushing No. 24/25 Northern Arizona (91-66), despite more passing yardage (154-125), despite an advantage in time of possession (31:48-27:03), even though it collected three sacks and did a better job converting third downs than NAU, UCD took a pair of lightning bolts to the psyche with those two interceptions.
“I have a good group of young men, who played their hearts out,” Gould, a former Cal assistant, continued. “I know I’ve said this, that we’re close … and we are.”
The Aggies started slow, but eventually looked like they had put things together.
After gaining 32 yards on their first possession, the Lumberjacks (1-1) drive stalled when UCD defensive end Nick King sacked quarterback Kyren Poe and defensive linemen Anthony Kaspar and Marques Barron shut in Zach Bauman for a one-yard gain. A third-down dropped pass forced the NAU’s first punt.
However, both Aggie possessions fizzled in the initial quarter. In fact, UCD gained only 16 yards on its first 14 plays of the night.
The Lumberjacks got on the board first when tight end Dejzon Walker caught a 3-yard pass from Poe at 8:09 into the contest.
It wasn’t until a second-period swing pass from Laughrea to Gabe Manzanares went for 36 yards — finally putting the locals in Northern Arizona territory — that the Aggies made offensive noise.
Immediately after the big hook-up, Manzanares went 14 yards, then Laughrea showed his mobility …
Rolling right, there was nothing doing. Picking up a key block from center Jay Luchetti, the former Rocklin High QB reversed field and, with a convoy from Manzanares, went untouched for a 23-yard score.
Brady Stuart’s extra point tied the game.
Brilliant run support from the Aggie secondary bottled Bauman (56 yards rushing) and the two Big Sky members (in a nonconference meeting) were tied 7-7 at intermission.
But that inspired UCD play came with a cost …
Right corner Jonathan Perkins was injured while stopping Bauman cold on a second-down play late in the first period. Then later, left corner Dre Allen was shaken up and came out.
However, this is a deeeeep secondary. Replacing Perkins for a few plays, sophomore Patrick Wells made two sparkling tackles — twice getting Bauman for losses.
Both Allen and Perkins would return.
Speaking of Bauman, on the final play of the half, Bauman managed four yards and established the Lumberjacks career rushing mark (at that point the senior had 52 yards Saturday and 3,799 overall).
The mark lasted about 20 minutes until Nick King and Ryan Dimino nailed Bauman for a 3-yard loss on the back’s first carry of the second half (Bauman later reclaimed the record, finishing at 3,803 lifetime).
That play was integral in stopping NAU — and setting up the Aggies at their 47 for a 45-yard drive that resulted in Stuart’s 25-yard field goal.
It was Stuart’s first success field goal in four tries this season, and it also marked UCD’s first lead of 2013 at 10-7.
But Lumberjack pressure hurt the Aggies in the second half. Gould said picking up the blitz and making sure the pass rush doesn’t leak around the ends is something his team will work hard on in practice next week.
“A couple of times … it was poor technique,” the coach said of the NAU pass rush which got to Laughrea twice and forced him into a 16-for-33 night with the two game-changing interceptions.
Next up for UCD is another home game with Portland State (2-1) at 6 p.m.
Notes: It’s the first time since 1965 that the Aggies have started 0-3. … Tavior Mowry rushed for 45 yards and Manzanares had 44 as the locals continue to search for an identity on offense. Tom Hemmingsen (50 yards) and Corey Galindo (34 yards) each had four catches. … Northern Arizona’s Poe completed 15-of-26 passes for 125 yards. … Saturday was the first time since a 2006 game against Montana State that UCD had held an opponent under 200 yards total offense.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.