Sept. 7, 2002
ALLENDALE, Mich. - Strong safety Scott Mackey intercepted UC Davis quarterback Ryan Flanigan's pass in the end zone with 18 seconds remaining on Saturday, preserving top-ranked Grand Valley State's 24-17 season-opening football win over the No.6 Aggies before a record 12,361 fans at Lubbers Stadium.
UC Davis, which had six turnovers in the game and trailed 24-8 in the fourth quarter before rallying, lost its first road regular-season road game to an NCAA Division II opponent since 1994. The loss was also the first on the road to start a season for the Aggies since a 56-31 loss at Cal State Northridge in 1996.
The Lakers, who lost in the national championship game last season to North Dakota, extended their regular-season winning streak to 17 games. Grand Valley is ranked No.1 in six different preseason polls, while the Aggies are as high as second. Saturday's game lived up to its much-hyped billing.
UC Davis freshman O.J. Swanigan rushed for a game-high 68 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, also catching two passes for 19 yards. Senior quarterback Kenny Kearns - one of three signal-callers for UC Davis in the game - completed 16 of 25 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, also throwing two interceptions. Junior Ryan Flanigan completed four passes for 53 yards and junior quarterback Jon Barragan rushed for 23 yards.
The Aggies had six turnovers in the game - two in the fhird quarter - leading to 21 points by Grand Valley State.
UC Davis finished the game with 348 yards in total offense, while holding the high-powered Lakers to just 263, far below the 600 ypg they averaged last season. The Aggie defense played a strong game, especially in the second half, limiting Grand Valley State to just 59 yards after halftime.
UC Davis trailed 24-17 with 2:08 left in the game after being behind by 16 points midway through the final quarter , before taking one final try to tie the game. Starting from the Aggies' 36-yard line, Flanigan completed a 7-yard pass to running back Matt Massari, found senior wide receiver Michael Oliva for a 29-yard completion to the Lakers' 25, then rushed for 10 yards to the 15 with less than a minute remaining.
UC Davis faced a fourth-and-2 in the final seconds and then had delay of game and false start penalties - the Aggies first penalties of the game - putting it back on the 17 with a fourth and 12. Flanigan tried to find Oliva in the back of the end zone, but Mackey stepped in and snagged the interception to seal the win with 18 ticks left. It was the second big play of the game for Mackey, who earlier forced a key fumble that turned into a Grand Valley State touchdown.
Despite the loss, UC Davis Coach Bob Biggs was pleased with the Aggies' effort.
"I could not be prouder of a football team than I am of our club," he said. "To come in here in this environment - which was a wonderful college environment, this is as good as it gets in Division II - and the way we battled back; you know, the fact that we lost doesn't mean anything to me. I am just so proud of the way they played. I learned something about our football team today."
Trailing just 10-8 nearly midway through the third quarter, UC Davis was driving into Lakers territory. However, Mackey forced a fumble from Massari at the Grand Valley 40 which was caught in the air by free safety Joe Ballard and returned 60 yards for a touchdown, leading to a 17-8 lead. The Lakers pinned the Aggies at the 10 on the ensuing kickoff and on UC Davis' first play of the drive sacked Kearns at the five, causing another fumble. This time, All-American quarterback Curt Anes found All-American wide receiver David Kirkus for a 7-yard score and a 24-8 lead.
The score was the final of the game for Grand Valley.
"Our defense just played tremendous football and kept us in the game," said Biggs. "We gave up two touchdowns really on offensive turnovers and then three others as well, and yet we hung in the game and gave ourselves a chance to get back into the game late, and that's all you can ask for as a coach."
Swanigan rushed in from 5 yards out with 8:02 left in the game and then Dusty Apocotos booted a 22-yard field with 4:13 left to help put the Aggies in striking distance.
Defensive end Aaron Latzke finished with seven tackles in the game, two of them for losses of three yards, while safety A.J. Avila also had seven tackles. Cornerback Carnell Green intercepted a pass, end John Downs recovered a fumble and end Jake Mossawir had a pair of sacks.
The teams played a scoreless first quarter before the Lakers took a 7-0 lead with 10:57 left in the second quarter on Anes' 26-yard touchdown pass to Kircus. Dave Hendrix followed with a 31-yard field goal a little more than three minutes later for a 10-0 lead, but the Aggies got on the scoreboard with 3:06 to go with a safety after punter Matt Regnery ran out of the end zone with the ball after a mishandled snap. UC Davis took resulting free kick and drove 65 yards on 11 plays, scoring with 2:31 left in the half on an 8-yard pass from Kearns to Kevin Freeman.
"This reminded me of North Dakota (in the playoffs) last year," Flanigan said. "It was definitely a playoff atmosphere, a 'big-time' college atmosphere which is fun. Coming down the field, as a quarterback, that's the kind of position you thrive to be in. You want to be the last guy on the field. You want to be the guy driving them down the field., putting the team in a position to score."
UC Davis will open its home season next Saturday with a 6 p.m. game against Abilene Christian.