BROOKINGS, S.D. Once again, UC Davis and South Dakota State were separated by next to nothing. And once again, the Aggies came up one play short. It's the story of the last five meetings between the two former Great West Conference foes.
In its first contest of the season against a Football Championship Subdivision squad, UC Davis could not make good on a defensive score or a fourth-quarter lead, dropping a 12-8 decision before an announced crowd of 11,532.
The Aggies (1-2) failed to score an offensive touchdown, were sacked seven times and allowed 197 yards to SDSU running back Zach Zenner, who entered the week leading NCAA Division I in rushing. Yet they were right there, in position to score a second nonconference win and spoil the Jackrabbits' home opener.
It has gone that way often against SDSU (2-1). UC Davis has lost four in a row in the series dating to 2005, all by seven points or fewer.
"You've got to give credit where credit's due they played well defensively," said UC Davis coach Bob Biggs, who went barefoot during the pregame drills in support of a charity project. "We couldn't quite sustain anything offensively, and when we had a couple of opportunities, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot."
Yes, opportunities were in short supply. The Aggies never got inside the SDSU red zone and mustered just 237 yards of offense 136 fewer than the hosts. They reached the 25-yard line late in the second quarter, only to be taken out of field-goal range by a sack. A third-quarter drive was undone by a holding penalty that negated a fourth-down touchdown.
The last best chance came with 3 minutes to go in the fourth, UC Davis again giving up a sack, this time to SDSU linebacker T.J. Lally. It was the fourth of the day for the redshirt freshman, all on blitzes.
"They were bringing more rushers than we could block," Aggies quarterback Randy Wright said. "It's something we need to fix."
Wright finished 16 of 25 for 116 yards, while London Lacy, who was on the field for the final possession, went 6 of 7 for 67 yards.
SDSU quarterback Austin Sumner, last year's Freshman of the Year in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, was 20 of 34 for 191 yards with one interception. UC Davis junior cornerback Jonathan Perkins took that second-quarter offering 69 yards to the house. A misdirection play on the two-point try staked the visitors to an 8-0 lead.
However, SDSU never allowed the Aggies to gain separation. Zenner scored just 57 seconds after Perkins, sprinting 61 yards. The sophomore added the game winner early in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard burst.
That makes three weeks in a row that an individual has run for at least 130 yards against the Aggies.
"He gets better as the game keeps going," Biggs said of the 6-foot, 215-pound Zenner. "You're not going to hold a guy down like that."
UC Davis didn't need to, thanks to its ability to force turnovers. In addition to the pick, Perkins scooped up a fumble forced by safety Kevyn Lewis on the opening possession of the game and returned it 22 yards to the SDSU 48.
But UC Davis couldn't capitalize, going three-and-out, as it did on the next series and to start the second half.
UC Davis lost starting running back Tavior Mowry, a redshirt freshman, due to an injury in the first quarter and wound up with just 54 rushing yards on 32 tries.
The Aggies were good in the grind; they just couldn't pull free from it.
"That's the way football is meant to be played," SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said. "It's going to be a play here and a play there, and we ended up making more than they did one more maybe, if it's as simple as that."