A year ago, UC Davis ventured to Cheney in the Pacific Northwest and had a bomb dropped on their collective laps.
Eastern Washington trailed by nine at the half, then unloaded 35 points in the third quarter en route to a 63-30 runaway on its red home turf at Roos Field, aptly called “The Inferno.”
On Saturday night at Aggie Stadium, on a green turf on Jim Sochor Field, UCD trudged to the locker room deflated for a different reason.
The Aggies could not hold off the Eagles and their vast array of skill players, and a 49-yard field goal attempt by Max O’Rourke to tie the game fell just short with 15 seconds remaining, allowing Eastern Washington to escape with a 41-38 victory in a Big Sky Conference contest every bit as good as advertised. It was a game the Aggies thought they had, a telling theme for a team not expected to do much, given their youth and preseason projections to finish near the bottom of the conference in a polling of coaches.
“Great game,” UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins said. “I feel bad for our guys. I know how hard they work and sacrifice. We went toe to toe in a heavyweight fight. It hurts.”
The league’s top two most prolific outfits were up for the task, combining for 55 first downs, 819 passing yards and seven touchdown passes as NFL and CFL scouts jotted down notes on receivers, passers and defenders.
As impressive as UCD’s Jake Maier was, completing 35 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns, and as dazzling as receiver Keelan Doss was again with 15 catches, a career-high 208 yards and a score, the Aggies were undone by Gabe Gubrud. The junior completed 33 passes for 452 yards and six touchdowns a year after engineering the win over UCD en route to setting three FCS, seven Big Sky and 18 school records under offensive coordinator Troy Taylor, now the offensive coordinator at Utah, which is No. 20 in The Associated Press’ FBS Poll.
Gubrud could well be on his way to his fourth successive Big Sky Conference Player of the Week honors as the Eagles moved to 6-0 all time against UCD.
“Davis played a hell of a game,” Eastern Washington coach Aaron Best said. “They’re one hell of a team. Mr. Doss and Maier are a deadly combination. We just happened to make one more play.”
Eastern Washington, which entered the game ranked 10th on the FCS Coaches Poll, was 0-1 against Dan Hawkins coming in, having fallen to Colorado when Hawkins was the coach there.
Hawkins is in his first year leading UCD, his alma mater, and he has the revved up Aggies ahead of schedule at 3-3. UCD won three games in each of the previous two seasons and is aiming to halt its losing seasons streak at six.
C.J. Spencer, UCD’s designated quarterback scorer in the red zone, rushed for three touchdowns, including two 1-yard plunges in the first half. The Inderkum High School product has run for five touchdowns this season.
His 10-yarder with 4:45 left gave UCD a 38-34 lead, but the Aggies couldn’t slow down Gubrud, who has the luxury of some terrific receivers. Nsimba Webster had 102 yards receiving and a touchdown, and Talolo Limu-Jones had two touchdown catches.
Eastern Washington seeks its ninth Big Sky championship since 2004 as it moved to 43-6 in conference play since 2011. It has won 37 of its last 41 conference games and 11 in a row.