It was an improvement, but not quite the desired result for UC Davis, as the Aggies fell to seventh-ranked Montana 42-28 in Big Sky Conference play Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
One week removed from the 77-37 drubbing UC Davis took from No. 11 Montana State, the Aggies (1-6, 0-4) stayed with the Grizzlies (5-2, 3-0) until the end.
“I felt really good about how my team came out and competed,” UC Davis head coach Ron Gould said. “They played from start to finish. Montana made a few more plays than we did, so hats off to those guys.”
After a pedestrian opening quarter, UC Davis found itself down 7-0. On the first play of the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Ben Scott hit a streaking Ramon Vargas in stride down the right sideline for a 58-yard catch-and-run that put the Aggies on the Montana 14-yard line.
Three plays later, Vargas came down with a 9-yard touchdown reception in the back of the end zone, and the score was tied 7-7 two minutes into the second quarter. Vargas had three catches for 72 yards to cap the five-play, 77-yard drive.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior finished with 129 yards and a pair of scores on eight receptions. Scott was 20 for 37 for 257 yards with four touchdown passes.
“He’s just our guy,” Scott said of Vargas. “I’m going to throw to the guys getting open, and he seems to be getting open a lot right now, so he’s going to get the ball.”
UC Davis took the lead at 14-7 with 3:34 to go before halftime on an 8-yard pass from Scott to Gabe Manzanares. Like Vargas on the Aggies’ previous drive, Manzanares was rewarded with a score after doing the majority of the work. The 5-9 senior running back accounted for 73 of the 90 yards – 48 rushing – on the 12-play drive.
“It was a great drive,” said Manzanares, who tallied 110 yards on 19 carries and added 24 more on three receptions. “You talk about execution, and that’s what we did. We focused play by play.
“Coach called my number, so I was just trying to do my job.”
Montana answered with a quick touchdown to tie the score at 14-14 with 50 seconds left in the half.
The third quarter did not go the Aggies’ way, as Montana outscored UC Davis 14-0 and won the yardage battle 181-23.
The Grizzlies reclaimed the lead midway through the third when quarterback Jordan Johnson floated a 3-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Mitch Saylor.
Running back Jordan Canada made it 28-14 on a 74-yard scamper with 43 seconds to go in the quarter.
The Aggies more than tripled their yardage total from the third quarter on their first drive of the fourth, going 82 yards in 11 plays and cutting the deficit in half on an 11-yard play-action pass from Scott to senior running back Dalton Turay.
Turay lowered his shoulder three times and broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
Momentum didn’t hang around long for UCD as Montana answered in a mere two plays.
Johnson had his second 46-yard pass to Jamaal Jones and Canada finished off the drive with a 24-yard run.
The Aggies didn’t flinch.
Scott marched his team 75 yards downfield in nine plays and found Vargas for a 15-yard scoring strike on fourth-and-6 with less than 4 minutes to go.
The Aggies didn’t get any closer as Canada added a 21-yard scoring run. His three touchdowns came on his final three touches of the game. He finished with 151 yards on 15 carries.
UC Davis has a bye next week but hosts Northern Colorado (2-5, 1-3) on Nov. 1.