There were hellos and goodbyes, disappointments and celebrations.
The 2012 UC Davis football season had a little bit of everything.
In their first year as a member of the Big Sky Conference and their final with coach Bob Biggs at the helm, the Aggies went 4-7, but pushed several quality opponents to the brink and knocked longtime rival Sacramento State out of the playoffs in the season finale to give Biggs and their seniors one last hurrah at Aggie Stadium.
The 34-27 Causeway Classic win Nov. 17 was sealed on a last-minute interception by senior linebacker Jordan Glass, who was named to the All-Big Sky Conference second team on Tuesday and who was the team’s most valuable player in 2012.
That type of closing play was something UCD needed in games throughout the season, but never got until the Causeway Classic. The Aggies had late leads on Big Sky powerhouses Eastern Washington, which entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed in the Football Championship Subdivision tournament, and third-seeded Montana State, but couldn’t hold on in either game. They fell 31-28 at EWU after the Eagles blocked a last-second field goal attempt and 48-41 to MSU after quarterback Randy Wright’s final heave to the end zone was batted down.
Wright had an up-and-down year, completing 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,410 yards, 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but threw for a combined 531 yards in the two games against the Eagles and Bobcats. He also added a touchdown pass in close losses to Cal Poly and helped the locals play tight with South Dakota State. Both of those squads joined Eastern Washington and Montana State in the FCS playoffs.
In all, UCD lost four games by eight points or less. But, more than anything, Biggs said he will remember this team for its refusal to quit.
“This team will always be special to me,” he said after the Causeway Classic. “(It’s) just the way they keep fighting and they’ve been so resilient and how they really care about each other. And sometimes that seems overstated, but I think it’s really true in this case.”
In fact, with the exception of a 45-13 loss to Football Bowl Subdivision opponent San Jose State — which nearly knocked off nationally ranked No. 8 Stanford before taking on UCD — and a 49-21 defeat at the hands of Portland State, the Aggies played every winning opponent close. UCD had a chance in the fourth quarter to stage a comeback at Northern Arizona, which, at the time, was ranked 15th in the FCS.
With his team trailing 21-7 in that contest, Glass intercepted a pass by Wildcat quarterback Cory Grossart, allowing Wright and Company to set up shop deep in NAU territory with seven minutes to go. The Aggies managed to move the ball down inside the 10-yard line, but running back Courtney Williams was stopped on fourth-and-2 from the five and the Wildcats were able to keep the game from getting closer.
UCD also added several blowouts of its own, beating Azusa Pacific 41-3 in its home opener and Weber State 37-13, also at Aggie Stadium. Against WSU, Wright threw for a touchdown and fullback Dalton Turay scored three times — all in one quarter. Turay, a sophomore, earned the trust of the UCD coaching staff in short yardage situations with his locomotive-like running style and became more of a factor as the season progressed. He ended up rushing for seven touchdowns overall and added another on a pass from Wright.
Turay was an integral part of a running attack that also featured Williams, a redshirt freshman and Davis High graduate, Marquis Nicolis and Colton Silveria. The quartet combined to rush for 1,621 yards on 310 carries — a 5.2 average — and score 18 of the team’s 32 offensive touchdowns. They were particularly effective against Idaho State, churning out 300 rushing yards and five touchdowns as a unit. That game, a 52-49 win by the Aggies, was, in a way, a testament to the unpredictable nature of the team.
In some games, it was the offense lighting up the scoreboard. In others, it was the defense and special teams. Against the Hornets, the defense and special teams combined to force four turnovers and score two touchdowns, both of which proved to be critical as the Aggie offense made it into the end zone only once.
The play of punter Colton Schmidt was really the only constant. In the final year of his UCD career, Schmidt was as prolific as ever, averaging 44.5 yards per punt to break the record he set as a junior, and racking up 41 touchbacks on kickoffs and punts combined.
On Tuesday, he and offensive lineman Sean Davies were named to the All-Big Sky Conference first team.
Turay, tight end Taylor Sloat — who caught the go-ahead touchdown pass from Wright in the Causeway Classic — cornerback Jonathan Perkins, linebacker Bryan Gruendl, defensive tackle Andrew Benjamin, center Ray Wilburn and wide receiver Corey Galindo all earned honorable mention honors.
UCD has to feel pretty good about the individual awards and the 3-5 record in the Big Sky, considering it was its first season in a conference that supplied four of the 20 FCS playoff teams.
And, with players like Williams, Turay, Wright, Galindo, Perkins, defensive end Nick King, who led the team with 6.5 sacks, and safety Aarynn Jones, who was third on the Aggies in tackles and added an interception, set to return, UCD should be poised to top its opening act in 2013.
Provided, of course, the school finds a suitable replacement for Biggs, who capped off 20 years as head coach of the Aggies and nearly 40 years in the football program with the win over the Hornets.
“I was just so focused on trying to help this team win. That’s all I was thinking about, really, and now that it’s over with and we’ve won, I feel very calm inside,” Biggs said after the game. “I think it’s because I’ve been so fortunate.”
But replacing Biggs, who got his 144th victory in the Causeway Classic — second only to Jim Sochor in Aggie history — and his relaxed sideline demeanor will be easier said than done.
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org