Forget leaving a few plays on the field. The UC Davis football team left a whole half on the field.
After matching Portland State point for point in the first half, the Aggies appeared to lose all focus in the second, giving up 35 points while managing only one touchdown of their own en route to a 49-21 loss on Saturday night.
The loss was without a doubt UCD’s worst at Aggie Stadium this year, and dropped the Aggies’ overall record to 3-6 (2-4 in Big Sky Conference play). And with only two games left on the schedule, a winning season is now out of the question.
“We didn’t play with the same physical, spirited effort that we have been (playing with),” said UCD head coach Bob Biggs. “We just weren’t flying around the field and (Portland State) took advantage of it. They outplayed us.
“This was the first time all season where I thought (the other team) brought more energy and outplayed us. And that part is disappointing, to be honest.”
Adding to the Aggie woes was the disappearance of their run defense. They had been stout against the run coming into the game, but gave up 280 yards on the ground to the Vikings, including 139 to running back D.J. Adams.
Adams was particularly productive in the second half, churning out 100 yards rushing and a touchdown.
With his team already up 21-14 midway through the third period, Adams burned the UCD defense for runs of 27 and 29 yards before plunging into the end zone from 4 yards out to put the Aggies in a 28-14 hole.
UCD quarterback Randy Wright attempted to respond, completing a 23-yard pass to Tim Benton and a 5-yarder to Anthony Soto to lead his team down inside the PSU 40.
But a few plays later, he attempted to squeeze a pass into tight coverage. The ball was tipped into the hands of the Vikings’ Ian Sluss, who returned the ball 13 yards to the PSU 26-yard line. From there, it all fell apart.
Justin Lilley caught a short pass across the sideline and cut back across the field, outmaneuvering the UCD defense for a 68-yard score that gave the Vikings a 35-14 lead with 10:58 left in the game.
Aggie tailback Marquis Nicolis scored on a 20-yard touchdown rush, but Sluss returned his second interception for a touchdown and Ben Bowen added a 23-yard scoring run to put PSU up 49-21.
“(The Vikings) were blocking at the point of attack. We knew their scheme (but) it’s one thing to know it and another to get there and make stops,” Biggs said. “We just didn’t have people at the point of attack and so they just leaned on us pretty good. They were physical with us, they were moving us around a bit. We didn’t really have any answers.”
In the first half, however, UCD appeared to have all the answers.
After PSU’s Thomas Carter scored from 4 yards out seven minutes into the game, Wright led a 12-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 5-yard TD pass to Soto.
The senior receiver beat his defender on a short out route along the goal line and Wright hit him in stride to tie the game up.
The Vikings got a 23-yard touchdown run from quarterback Kieran McDonagh to make it 14-7, but Wright responded once again, finding Soto on a corner route for a 15-yard score.
UCD even had a chance to take a lead into halftime when defensive lineman Walter Earnest made a diving interception on a throwaway by McDonagh, but kicker Brady Stuart misfired on a 50-yard field-goal attempt as time expired and the teams entered halftime tied at 14-14.
Wright finished 26-of-44 for 264 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was sacked four times.
His counterpart, McDonagh, was a little bit better, throwing for 250 yards and a touchdown which, combined with their rushing total, gave the Vikings 530 yards of offense on the night. McDonagh also ran for two scores, including a 6-yard scamper in the third quarter that gave PSU a lead it wouldn’t relinquish at 21-14.
Soto led the way for the Aggie receivers, catching seven passes for 67 yards. He was joined by Nicolis, who caught six for 46 and Benton, who had two for 44. Tight end Taylor Sloat snagged three balls for 41.
UCD punter Colton Schmidt shined in the loss, punting six times for 269 yards (a 44.8 yard average) and had a 68-yard boot that put the Vikings down inside their own 2-yard line with nine minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Aggies have a bye this week before making a trip to Eastern Washington on Nov. 10. After that, they will return home for their season finale — the Causeway Classic against Sacramento State. With a winning record out of reach, UCD’s main motivation, according to Earnest, will be to give Biggs — who will retire at season’s end — and the seniors some final games worth remembering.
“We want to send the seniors out right. We want to send coach Biggs out right,” Earnest said. “We’ve still got two games to label who we are. We don’t care about the record at this point. We just want to play Aggie football.”
But it won’t be easy. Eastern Washington (6-2) fell to Southern Utah, 30-27, on Saturday, but the Eagles entered that game as the top-ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision. Sac State, meanwhile, improved to 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Sky when it upset No. 11 Cal Poly, 35-29, on Saturday.
— Reach Will Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org