It was 21-0 before the visitors seemingly had all of their gear pulled off the bus and before the sun started to set in Yolo County.
UC Davis charged to a three-touchdown lead on Cal Poly in quick order, lost its steam, then held on at Aggie Stadium on Saturday evening in yet another Big Sky Conference thriller to the finish.
The Aggies made a late defensive stand to seal a 31-28 victory in front of an announced crowd of 10,503 to keep the frustrated Mustangs of San Luis Obispo winless, and to avoid what would have been a crushing loss in a season that still has a lot of legs.
UCD moves to 4-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big Sky under impassioned first-year coach Dan Hawkins. If the postseason remains a long shot, then halting the consecutive losing seasons at six is most certainly within reach with three games to play, including at Sacramento State on Nov. 18.
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Then again, should UCD run the table with victories over Idaho State, Southern Utah and Sac State, the Football Championship Subdivision postseason committee might have to consider the Aggies. But that’s weeks away, and the Aggies didn’t want to leave the field, mingling with family and friends well after the game.
The Golden Horseshoe – the coveted prize here – will remain in Davis in a rivalry rumble that now has UCD leading 21-20-2.
Jake Maier passed for 459 yards and four touchdowns for the Aggies, all in the first half. The sophomore transfer out of Long Beach City College hit Wesley Preece of Rocklin High School fame for scoring strikes of 24 and 28 yards, and he found Aaron Moore for a 50-yard play for that 21-0 surge with 8:50 left to go in the first quarter.
Maier completed his first nine passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns.
But the rout never materialized, and the Mustangs did not look the part of a team enduring its poorest season since 1964.
Cal Poly went 0-10 that season. It is 0-8 now, ravaged by injuries at skill positions and on defense.
The injuries allowed Jake Jeffrey to enter the lineup three games ago, and the redshirt freshman from Folsom High School, where he was The Bee’s 2015 Offensive Player of the Year, nearly willed his team to a stunning rally.
Jeffrey passed for 212 yards and two touchdowns, but his receivers couldn’t hold onto catchable passes in the final drive, which ended at the UCD 33 with 33 seconds to go.
Jeffrey is proof that walk-ons are indeed players. He soared up the depth chart with strong showings in spring and summer drills, and he has the attention of his team with his gritty effort. He is certain to land a scholarship as walk-ons who become starters at quarterback do not go unnoticed and under appreciated.
Ryan Bua had 16 tackles for UCD, the most for an Aggie since the program entered the Big Sky six seasons ago. The defense coordinator for UCD is Robert Tucker, a Grant High graduate who was brought in this season by Hawkins.
“It's not an art contest,” Hawkins said of the game. “You want to score more than them. I was happy to win and learn and lose and learn.”
Tucker and Hawkins have worked on the same coaching staff before.
Hawkins has joked throughout the season that the role of a defensive coordinator is a punishing one as it is difficult to hold teams down.
Cal Poly was proof.