It seemed like a recipe for a blowout Saturday afternoon at UC Davis.
No. 13 Montana was coming to Davis to face a struggling Aggies team with 10 injured players, including six who have started at one time or another this season.
“We’re decimated,” UCD coach Ron Gould admitted.
But thanks to an inspired performance by a depleted but determined defense, the Aggies battled the Big Sky Conference behemoths for 3 1/2 quarters before succumbing 27-13 in front of an announced crowd of 6,241.
The win moved Montana to 3-2 overall and 2-0 in Big Sky Conference play. The Aggies fell to 0-5 overall and 0-2 in conference.
It figured to be a long afternoon for a defense that was missing injured defensive backs Shamawn Wright, Keleen Culberson, Ryan Parenteau and Isiah Olave and linebackers Ryan Bua and Artice Nelson. All but Parenteau may be out for the season.
But early in the fourth quarter, with UCD trailing 21-13, the Aggies’ defense had forced Montana to punt five times, held them on downs three times and recovered a fumble.
So when UCD faced a fourth-and-1 on the Montana 47-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Gould elected to punt instead of try to get the first down.
“I thought the defense would get the ball back to us,” Gould said. “The guys played their tails off. ... The defense had a heck of an effort and gave the offense many opportunities to come back and score.”
But not this time.
Montana got the ball at its own 15 with 10:40 left, then drove 85 yards in 16 plays and used up 4:12 as Jeremy Calhoun’s five-yard touchdown run was the dagger.
Linebacker Russell Reeder wasn’t about to blame fatigue, even though Montana ran 97 plays in accumulating 441 total yards.
“With the spread, you are going to have to play through exhaustion,” Reeder said. “What it’s going to come down to when we look at the film is that we didn’t execute in certain areas (on that drive).”
The Aggies sputtered offensively. Ben Scott threw two interceptions and was sacked five times, though his 11-yard touchdown pass to Derek Baljeu gave the Aggies a 13-7 lead early in the second quarter. The Aggies also lost two fumbles.
Scott blamed himself even though Montana entered the game with the second-best sacks average (4.25) in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“They are in the backfield because I’m taking too long with the ball,” Scott said. “ … The coaches put us in a really good position, and I just didn’t execute (the plays).”
One bright spot offensively for UCD was true freshman running back Mitchell Layton from Woodcreek High School. Layton, playing because of injuries to Justin Williams and Joshua Kelley, finished as the top rusher with 62 yards on 12 carries while backing up starter Manusamoa Luuga, who rushed 19 times for 58 yards.
Gould said that when it comes to injuries, the Aggies have a next-man up mentality they call “Charlie, Mike.”
“We don’t get caught up in all the injuries and surgeries,” Gould said. “If we spend time talking about all the guys we don’t have in a game, then we miss an opportunity to help develop the guys we do have.”