Many fans thought the pivotal series in UC Davis' 30-13 victory over visiting Idaho State at Aggie Stadium on Saturday came with 8:03 to play in the Big Sky Conference opener.
The Bengals, who had rallied from a 16-0 halftime deficit to close to 16-10, recovered a fumbled kickoff on the Aggies' 6-yard line.
But Ryan Dimino and Steven Pitts buried Idaho State's Aaron Prier for a one-yard loss, then quarterback Justin Arias threw two incompletions (one a drop in the end zone) and Idaho State settled for Brendon Garcia's 24-yard field goal.
Idaho State coach Mike Kramer, who called it a "very bitter loss," thought the breakthrough play came after the field goal, when the Bengals kicked off to the Aggies and pinned them at their own 26.
To that point in the second half, Idaho State had kept the Aggies from crossing midfield and had allowed only two first downs.
"If we had gotten yards on the third down play to the 2- or 3-yard line, I would have gone for the touchdown," Kramer said. "But on the road you take the points, especially the way our defense was playing. At 16-13, the lead wasn't insurmountable."
On the next play, however, Aggies quarterback Randy Wright threw a 29-yard pass along the right sideline that T.J. King snagged over a defender. That eventually led to Wright's 8-yard touchdown pass to fullback Dalton Turay that gave the Aggies a 10-point lead with 3:11 to go.
"The whole game got turned on the quarterback's ability to throw the fade ball," Kramer said. "It was a great throw, a great catch that got them across midfield. We evaporated like air out of a balloon real quickly."
Whose the quarterback? Although Wright relieved starter Jimmy Laughrea in the first quarter and passed for 201 yards and two touchdowns, Aggies coach Ron Gould said he would "revisit" who his starter will be for Saturday's game at Southern Utah.
Thunderbirds coach Ed Lamb is preparing for both.
"Both are good QBs," Lamb said during Wednesday's Big Sky media conference call. "We have to be prepared for both. But I was impressed with how Wright ran the offense."
Laughrea has never played Southern Utah, but Wright has a tough history with the Thunderbirds.
He was 14 for 23 for 150 yards and was sacked three times in a 34-3 loss in Cedar City, Utah, in 2011. As a freshman in 2010, he was 22 of 35 for 278 yards and a touchdown but also had an interception and was sacked four times in a 55-24 loss in Davis.
Mistaken identity Kramer conceded that community college transfer Gabe Manzanares had a career night with 208 rushing yards and a touchdown, but he said lots of backs have had big games against his team the last two seasons.
Kramer didn't realize Manzanares wasn't on last year's UC Davis team that rushed for a season-high 331 yards in a 52-45 shootout victory.
"If I'm not mistaken, hasn't he done that to us two years in a row," Kramer asked during the media conference. "Didn't he have a great game against us last year?"
When corrected, Kramer quipped: "Over the last 15, 16 games, we've had a penchant for being the team that backs can gain 200 yards against. We're the guys that have kick-started a lot of running backs' careers in this conference."
UC DAVIS (1-4, 1-0) AT SOUTHERN UTAH (4-1, 1-0)
Thunderbirds at a glance: Southern Utah is off to its best start since 1997 and is a bit of a throwback in the Big Sky Conference, which features many wide-open spread offensive attacks. The Thunderbirds like to milk the clock; they have almost a nine-minute advantage in time of possession. Two weeks ago, they beat Sacramento State 24-21 in a come-from-behind overtime thriller. Their offensive stars are running back Raysean Martin (304 rushing yards, five touchdowns), quarterback Aaron Cantu (71 percent completion rate), wide receiver Fatu Moala (26 catches, 303 yards) and kicker Colton Cook (7 of 8 in field goals, including a 58-yarder).
Aggies at a glance: Junior Gabe Manzanares had 208 rushing yards against Idaho State in the Big Sky Conference opener last week, the first 200-yard game for the Aggies since Matt Massari (221 yards) in 2002. Kicker Brady Stuart shared the conference's Special Teams Player of the Week award after making three of four field goals against the Bengals. Wide receiver-punt returner Tom Hemmingsen had a 51-yard punt return (the Aggies' longest since 2004) and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass. The 30-13 victory was Ron Gould's first as Aggies head coach. The big question this week: Will senior Randy Wright or sophomore Jimmy Laughrea start at quarterback?
Series: UC Davis leads 10-6 but is just 3-5 in Cedar City, including a 34-3 loss two years ago.
Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.