Cornerback Isaiah Olave returned an interception for an 11-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, helping to seal UC Davis' 34-21 homecoming win over Northern Colorado during homecoming festivities on Saturday evening at Aggie Stadium.
The Aggies, who also got a pair of rushing TDs from senior Manusamoa Luuga, snapped a four-game losing streak to improve their overall record to 2-5 while upping their conference mark to 1-3. The Bears dropped their second in a row and are 3-3 and 2-2.
Olave's heroics came after senior Colby Wadman pinned Northern Colorado at its own 12 with a 54-yard punt with 3:01 to go and the Aggies clinging to a 27-21 lead. Quarterback Kyle Sloter threw to his right on first down but Olave was there to meet the pass which he returned for an 11-yard touchdown.
The play was another key moment for the UC Davis defense which put together its second straight solid effort. A week after holding Southern Utah to 260 total yards, the Aggies limited the Bears to just 269, including 103 on the ground. Northern Colorado had just 64 total yards in the second half, 56 of them on its third-quarter TD drive and 23 during its final drive in the closing minutes.
"I talked to the players last week and I told them, if there's anything in life you want, you have to go get it," said head coach Ron Gould. "Nobody's going to give you anything... I told them we have to stay together, we've got to keep fighting and we've got to come out and play our kind of game.
"These kids, their heart, to see their resiliency to keep fighting and to keep pushing, it means everything," he added. "You talk about Aggie Pride, well that was exhibited today."
Luuga carried the ball a career-high 27 times, gaining 93 yards while Joshua Kelley had 66 yards, including a 31-yard TD in the third quarter that gave UC Davis a 24-14 lead. It was Kelley's second TD run of at least that distance in the past three games and his third run at least that far overall during the same timeframe.
Freshman Matt Blair made two field goals, hitting from 38 yards on the Aggies' opening drive of the game and then from 24 yards in the fourth. Luuga, who rushed for two touchdowns for the third time this year, plunged in from 1 and 6 yards, respectively, during a less than five-minute span in the second quarter as UC Davis opened a 17-7 lead.
Brandon Cartagena had a 16-yard TD run for the Bears in the first quarter that gave them an early 7-3 lead, Theron Verna was on the receiving end of a 20-yard scoring play late in the first half, and Darius Graham powered through from two yards with 2:49 in the third quarter. The latter scored cut the Aggies' lead to 24-21 before Blair's second field goal made it 27-21 and set up the exciting finish.
Linebacker Ryan Bua had eight tackles, including five solo, a sack and 2 TFLs, to help pace the UC Davis defense. Linebacker Nas Anesi had seven stops and cornerback Keleen Culberson and defensive end Zak Pettit each had six. Petit, Anthony Baumgart and Brandon Jamison also added sacks as the Aggies posted four sacks for the second straight week.
Quarterback Ben Scott completed 19 of 24 passes for 194 yards while Keelan Doss had eight catches for 51 yards. Jared Harrell had a pair of receptions for 50 yards, including a 32-yarder while Luuga had four for 50 yards.
UC Davis went without a turnover for the second time this season and has just one over its past two games.
The Bears' Sloter threw for 166 yards and a touchdown, Cartagena and Graham rushed for 58 and 54 yards, respectively, and receiver Stephen Miller caught eight passes for 82 yards. Linebacker Lavell Sanders led all players with 11 tackles, including eight solo.
The Aggies return to the road next weekend when they travel to face rival Cal Poly in the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe. Kickoff in San Luis Obispo is 6 p.m.
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