When Ron Gould took over as the new UC Davis football coach, bringing a new energy and different offensive philosophy, many Aggies supporters wondered if those changes might include veteran quarterback Randy Wright.
Wright had been the Aggies' starter for three years. He was prolific enough under former coach Bob Biggs to climb onto many of the Aggies' top-10 passing lists at a school once renowned for its quarterbacks.
But Wright also was sometimes the target of blame for the Aggies' mediocrity in recent years, especially last season's 4-7 finish.
So when Rocklin High School graduate Jimmy Laughrea transferred to UC Davis from Boise State late last spring, Wright soon found himself on the bench.
Laughrea had the bigger pedigree, the stronger arm and the better feet.
But on Saturday night in a Big Sky Conference opener against visiting Idaho State, with the Aggies' scoring woes continuing, Gould switched back to Wright.
UC Davis had scored 32 points through the first four games and had only three points to show after two promising first-quarter drives Saturday.
Wright didn't disappoint. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns to lead UC Davis to a 30-13 victory and help the Aggies (1-4, 1-0) avoid their first 0-5 start since 1960.
Also playing big roles in the victory for the Aggies:
Community college transfer Gabe Manzanares rushed for 208 yards and a touchdown, tied for the 10th-best single game rushing all-time and the best since Matt Massari's 221 yards in 2002 against Cal Poly.
UC Davis' defense, on the field for long stretches, made several impressive second-half stands in holding the Bengals (2-2, 0-1) to 326 total yards. The Aggies had three sacks, Aarynn Jones had an interception and Steven Pitts a fumble recovery.
Brady Stuart, who missed a 21-yard field-goal attempt on the Aggies' first drive his fifth miss in seven attempts rallied for three successful boots of 34, 36 and 20 yards.
"We don't do anything easy, but this victory is for these young men," said Gould, who won his first game as a head coach. "It's the culmination of all the hard work they have put in. And that's what I told the guys. Have faith and to believe in things you don't see. To keep working and trust the process."
Wright entered with 3:01 to play in the first quarter and led the Aggies to three scores two field goals and a touchdown to stake the Aggies to a 16-0 halftime lead.
"They said start warming up," Wright said of Gould and offensive coordinator Kevin Daft. "OK, you don't have to tell me twice. I got my chance. We got the win. Great game. I'm happy for coach Gould. ... I'm happy for my teammates."
Wright had to go back to work when Idaho State cut the Aggies' lead to 16-13 with 7:08 to play on Brendon Garcia's 24-yard field goal. That kick was set up by an Aggies fumble at the 7-yard line on a kickoff.
UC Davis went on a 74-yard, seven-play drive, capped by an 8-yard scoring strike from Wright to Dalton Turay with 3:57 left to go up 23-13.
"He's been there and he moved the team and did a fabulous job," Gould said of Wright. "Jimmy was a little anxious early on. We had some opportunities to score some touchdowns, but we missed some of those opportunities. So we decided to make the change."
After Laughrea completed 4 of 9 passes for 30 yards in the first two series and missed badly on a couple of passes, Wright entered.
He led UC Davis to the end zone on a 52-yard, four-play drive, capped by a laser to Tom Hemmingsen over the middle for a 20-yard touchdown.
After UC Davis stopped Idaho State on downs on the Aggies' 33, Wright drove them to the 19. The big play was a 40-yard pass to Turay. Stuart made a 36-yard field goal.
Gould said he was pleased and relieved to get the first win.
"I'm very fortunate," Gould said. "My hat's off to the staff and the players. Hats off to the support staff. They do a wonderful job in trying to make my job easier. So this victory is for them."
It was the third consecutive home game for the Aggies, who lost two weeks ago to Northern Arizona and last week to Portland State. Both games were played in front of modest crowds.
The Aggies had a season-best announced crowd of 7,194 on Saturday.
The game was much different than last year's wild offensive shootout in Idaho that the Aggies won 52-45. But Wright was stellar there, too, throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson (916) 326-5506.