Eastern rallies past Cal Davis, 31-28
By PAUL DELANEY
As UC Davis head football coach Bob Biggs approached the final road game of his long career with the Aggies he knew his team needed to get the big plays that had eluded them so far in 2102.
His team responded – in the first half – but in the end it was the Eastern Washington Eagles that got their share of big plays too and scored a 31-28 Big Sky football victory Saturday on a cold 30-degree day at Roos Field in Cheney.
The game ended with Aggies’ kicker Brady Stuart having his 52-yard field goal attempt blocked by Eastern’s David Gaylord with 46 seconds remaining.
“We just had to come out and be us,” senior defensive lineman Evan Cook said. “I don’t know what that team was in the first half.”
The 3-point win was just another in a series of nail-biting victories for the Eagles – three of their six conference victories have come by 3 points and two more by 6 – improving to 6-1 in league play, 8-2 overall.
On the flip side the Aggies’ loss was yet one more in a string of heartbreaking defeats Biggs and his team has had to endure in the veteran coach’s final season at the helm of the Aggies (2-5, 3-7). Four of the UC Davis’ losses in 2012 have come by just 22 points. “Another tough loss,” Biggs said. “It’s been the story of this year.”
Biggs concludes his 20-year career as the Aggies head coach, and 35 years associated with the UCD program when his team hosts local rival Sacramento State Saturday.
And he nearly went home with a victory to last a lifetime, something his counterpart, EWU’s Beau Baldwin was keenly aware of.
“It is part of who we are and part of what we do in terms of still finding ways to win even when we are not playing your best ball,” Baldwin said.
The Aggies dominated the No. 5 ranked Football Championship Subdivision Eagles (6-1, 8-2) through the first half, and lead 25-14 with what could have been a backbreaking touchdown from Dalton Turay with 8 seconds to play.
“I just felt a little bit of a lull in our team when we went up 14-3, and then it all of a sudden catapulted into a bunch of good stuff for them. We can’t let that happen,” Baldwin said.
In the second half, Eastern stormed back, outscoring UCD 20-3. It started with the Eagles’ Jimmy Pavel booting a 45-yard field goal with 11:39 to play in the third to cut it to 25-17.
Stuart answered with his 21-yarder to put the Aggies back up 28-17 with 7:01 to go in the third. But settling for those three points could have been a real turning point in the game. Moments before, the Aggies drove to the Eagles’ 4 but Randy Wright’s third down pass as he was being pressured by Eastern’s Andru Pulu was incomplete to Tim Benton.
The Eagles followed with a 51-yard Kyle Padron to Greg Herd touchdown pass on a third and 15, 3 minutes and 16 seconds later trimming it to 28-24.
After the third straight three and out of the second half for UC Davis, Eastern’s starting quarterback Vernon Adams capped a five-play, 66-yard drive that took just 1:32 with his 9-yard naked bootleg to score the winning touchdown with 8:13 to go.
Adams, a redshirt freshman, finished 9 of 17 for 142 yards passing, but 23 big yards rushing, including the touchdown scamper. Padron’s appearance in relief generated another 100 yards on 10 of 14 passing. Herd had seven catches for 101 yards and Kaufman for 109, including a 39-yard catch that set up Eastern’s second touchdown.
The Aggies got off a slow start, trailing 14-3 after the first quarter on a pair of touchdowns from Demitrius Bronson sandwiched around Stuart’s 41-yard field goal with 6 minutes remaining in the period.
CDU reeled off the next 22 points and seemed to have the Eagles on their heels. Corey Galindo snuck behind the secondary and Wright found him for a 72-yard scoring play 1:50 into the second quarter, cutting the lead to 14-11 after a 2-point conversion.
Turay scored from a yard out on a fourth and goal from the 1 with 7:36 left in the half and then burrowed through a scrum at the goal line for that huge score as the half ended.
The Aggies not only held the big lead at the half, but thoroughly dominated the Eagles through the first two quarters statistically. They held a 278-178 edge it total yards and won the time of possession 20:33-9:19. For the game Davis ended with a 435-361 edge in total yards as Wright went 24 for 43 for 289 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Eastern’s win came on a day when Cal Poly crushed Idaho State 70-14, Montana State got a wild 65-30 win over Portland State and a Northern Arizona 3-overtime 35-29 loss to Southern Utah in Flagstaff. The result sends the Big Sky into its final week of play with a four-way tie for the lead, each team at 6-1.
The Eagles close out the season Saturday visiting Portland State (2-5, 3-7) for a 1:05 p.m. kickoff at Jeld-Wen Stadium.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.