UC Davis football coach Ron Gould’s mantra to his players through a tough season has been the need to play four complete quarters.
The Aggies came pretty close to perfection Saturday night in beating Northern Colorado 34-21 in blustery, windy conditions during homecoming at Aggie Stadium.
It was the first Big Sky Conference win for the Aggies (2-5, 1-3), who snapped a four-game losing streak. It sends them into next Saturday’s game at Cal Poly with a big boost of confidence.
The Aggies sustained drives against the Bears (3-3, 1-2), stymied one of the Big Sky’s top offenses, and Isiah Olave produced the game’s biggest play with 2:55 left and the Aggies clinging to a six-point lead. He intercepted Kyle Sloter’s pass and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown. It came one play after Colby Wadman’s punt had pinned the Bears at their 12.
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“I got really emotional,” said senior quarterback Ben Scott, who completed 19 of 24 passes for 194 yards for the Aggies. “We hadn’t put it all together yet. So when I saw him get the interception and bring it back, it was a big sigh of relief. … It feels good to win.”
Senior running back Manusamoa Luuga rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries, and Josh Kelley had a thrilling 31-yard, third-quarter touchdown run, breaking several tackles before scampering across the goal line.
Luuga’s 27 carries marked a career high and he took a pounding on nearly every one without fumbling. His longest gain was 12 yards.
“As a senior running back I have one job and that’s to run the ball,” Luuga said. “So, as Ben says, if we have to run it 100 times, I run it 100 times. I’ll run 100 times.”
The Aggies had 349 total yards, ran 63 plays and did not have a turnover. They had scoring drives of 39, 84, 70, 85 and 85 yards.
UCD’s defense was stellar against a Northern Colorado offense that came into the game No. 3 in the Big Sky Conference in scoring offense (33.8 points) and fourth in total offense (461.8 yards).
The Aggies held Northern Colorado to 269 total yards, just 103 on the ground.
“The guys played four quarters tonight,” Gould said. “It was a little sloppy. I was hoping we’d get some rain, and we got it. You saw our defense take another step tonight. … You are starting to see us jell.”
Luuga’s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:03 to play in the first quarter put the Aggies ahead to stay, but victory wasn’t assured until Olave’s pick six, which was wildly celebrated by the hardy souls remaining from the drenched announced crowd of 6,251.
Without Scott last week because of an ankle injury, the Aggies were held to 290 total yards in a 24-3 loss at Southern Utah.
That disappointing effort came a week after a 63-30 pounding suffered at No. 4 Eastern Washington, a game the Aggies led 23-14 at the half.
Gould was pleased with how well his team practiced during the week.
“We’ve been to hell and back,” Gould said. “I told them we’ve got to stay together, keep fighting and we’ve got to come out and play our kind of game. … To see these kids keep fighting, keep pushing means everything. You talk about Aggie pride, well that was exhibited today.”