Gabe Manzanares might be the most valuable walk-on in the Big Sky Conference.
But UC Davis coach Ron Gould promises that will soon change.
“The first opportunity we get to put him on scholarship, he’ll be on full scholarship,” said Gould after Manzanares had 194 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns in the Aggies’ 34-18 senior day win over North Dakota at Aggie Stadium. “That’s going to happen for this young man because he’s earned it. He’s the heartbeat of this team.”
The little-used small-college and community college running back, a walk-on to the Aggies during the summer, rushed for 132 yards and had three catches for 62 yards. He has rushed for 1,163 yards this season.
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With Sacramento State rallying to beat Portland State 43-42 in Portland, Ore., the UCD win sets the stage for Saturday’s season-ending Causeway Classic at Hornet Stadium.
It was Manzanares’ sixth consecutive 100-yard rushing game.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Manzanares scored on runs of 17 yards and 1 yard, and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass.
His 1-yard touchdown run, which put UC Davis comfortably ahead 31-12 with 8:57 to play, was set up by his 39-yard burst to the 1-yard line that included a remarkable spin move that gained him at least 20 more yards.
“I don’t know where I developed it,” Manzanares said of the juke move. “I guess that just came from the back yard… I just lowered my shoulder and tried to absorb it and spin off it and, luckily, he wasn’t able to wrap me up.”
Jimmy Kunkel, Ian Joseph, Parker Smith, Jay Luchetti, Chris Schneider and tight end Taylor Sloat are the primary blockers for Manzanares.
“It’s pretty nice to come out and block for him and realize he’s already 20 yards down the field, just making guys miss and never quitting,” said Kunkel, a senior guard. “That’s something, as an offensive line, as an offense and as a team we all enjoy watching and appreciate.”
There were plenty of other Aggie highlights in a game pitting the two former Division II heavyweights – North Dakota (3-8, 2-6) beat UC Davis (4-7, 4-3) in the 2001 national semifinals – both now battling for respectability in the higher level Football Championship Subdivision.
Kicker Brady Stuart booted four field goals and punter Colby Wadman averaged 45 yards a punt and also had a 24-yard gain on a fake punt.
Quarterback Randy Wright completed 18 of 32 passes for 263 yards with no interceptions and completed passes to eight different receivers.
Defensive end Zak Pettit had two sacks; defensive tackle Anthony Kaspar had six tackles, a sack and a blocked PAT; and defensive back Tre Sayles III had an interception.
The Aggies entered the game with the Big Sky Conference’s best pass defense in yards allowed at 179.2, but North Dakota had 368 passing yards thanks to big-play receivers Kenny Golladay (five catches for 109 yards) and Greg Hardin (11 for 179), the school’s career leader in receptions and receiving yards. But North Dakota had only one passing touchdown, Joe Mollberg’s 30-yard scoring strike to Golladay late in the fourth quarter.
The game marked the last at home for 15 Aggie seniors, including standout defensive end Nick King, who had four tackles and a fumble recovery.
“I thought it was really incredible that every senior had a huge play during the game,” King said. “It seemed like all the seniors had some major contribution.”