Six years ago, UC Davis wide receiver Bakari Grant grabbed quarterback Greg Denham’s 38-yard rainbow touchdown pass over four defenders on the game’s final play to beat Northern Colorado 34-30 at Aggie Stadium.
For some Aggie supporters, the “Hail Bakari” ranks as one of the most exciting victories in UCD football history.
On Saturday on the same field, UCD was looking at an equalizing thriller – and against the same opponent, no less.
Trailing 27-21 with eight seconds to play, the Aggies were on the Northern Colorado 14-yard line after having started at their own 37 with 51 seconds to play.
But UCD quarterback Ben Scott’s third-down throw was intercepted in the end zone by Northern Colorado’s Trevor Douglass, sending the Aggies (1-7, 0-5) to their sixth consecutive loss and keeping them winless in the Big Sky Conference.
UCD trailed by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, but Scott threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ramon Vargas to cut the Bears’ lead to 10 with nine minutes to play, then Gabe Manzanares rushed for a 1-yard touchdown after a 49-yard catch by Alex Cannon to close to 24-21 with 5:10 remaining.
Meanwhile an injury-depleted Aggies defense that had been unable to stop the Bears (3-6, 2-4) most of the day forced two punts and held Northern Colorado to a field goal – after Manzanares fumbled at UCD’s 22-yard line with 3:25 to play – on the Bears’ final three series.
Scott, in his third start, threw for 301 yards and, as in his previous two outings, his favorite target was Vargas. The junior wide receiver caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
But the duo failed in their bid for a 10th completion on the Aggies’ final play.
With Vargas running a corner and Scott thinking it was a post, Douglass made the easy interception with 4 seconds left.
“It was just miscommunication,” Scott said of his lone turnover. “We weren’t on the same page like we had been all night.”
Northern Colorado dominated the time of possession and compiled 455 total yards, most coming from sophomore quarterback Sean Rubalcaba, who was 21 for 28 for 278 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed for a game-high 74 yards and a touchdown.
Until the Aggies’ fourth-quarter stand, the Bears had punted just one time and had scoring drives of 86, 65, 65 and 82 yards against one of the poorest defenses in the FCS. Three drives resulted in touchdowns; the fourth in a field goal. They also were stopped on the 1-yard line on downs in the second quarter, but only after moving 86 yards in 12 plays.
But in the final 6:21, the Aggies held the Bears to two three-and-outs, then forced them to boot a field goal after running three plays after Manzanares’ fumble.
“When it came down to it in the end, we buckled down on defense, and I thought we played pretty well and got some crucial stops,” said senior free safety Charles Boyett, who led the Aggies with 10 tackles.
Sophomore defensive end Zak Pettit had nine tackles – three for losses – and a sack, and sophomore strong safety Keleen Culberson added eight tackles.
The Aggies, who had shown an offensive revival under Scott, were out of sync in the first two quarters. They punted three straight times and gave the ball up on downs at the half. Northern Colorado had a nearly 2-to-1 advantage (19:42-10:18) in time of possession, though the Bears led only 7-0.
“We weren’t ready to go in the first half, and I am in charge of that, and I take the responsibility,” said UCD coach Ron Gould. “But the guys fought to the bitter, bitter end and gave us a chance to win.”
Northern Colorado was seen as a winnable game for a struggling Aggies team that now must travel the next two weeks to Northern Arizona (6-3, 4-1) next Saturday and Cal Poly (6-3, 5-1) on Nov. 15 before hosting Sacramento State on Nov. 22 in the 61st annual Causeway Classic.