SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - UC Davis turned in another strong defense performance - highlighted by Anthony Baumgart's 61-yard fumble return for a TD early in the game - but No. 17/18 Cal Poly was able to come back from a halftime deficit and hold off the Aggies, 21-16, in a hard-fought Battle for the Golden Horseshoe matchup at sold out Alex G. Spanos Stadium on Saturday night.
Cal Poly downed the Aggies for the second straight year and avenged an upset win by UC Davis in its last visit to San Luis Obispo two years ago. The Aggies fell to 2-6 overall and 1-4 in the Big Sky while the Mustangs improved to 5-2 and 3-1.
Manusamoa Luuga gained 118 yards on 15 carries for his third 100-yard game of the season while Keelan Doss caught six passes for 64 yards. The Aggies' offense, however, was only able to must 122 yards on the ground and 182 through the air and wasn't able to find the endzone until Ben Scott hit Doss for a 5-yard TD pass late in the game that made it 21-16, and set up an onsides kick in the final minute that Cal Poly was able to recover.
Safety Zach Jones had 10 solo tackles to lead the UC Davis defense while linebacker Ryan Bua had nine. The Mustangs entered the game averaging 352.5 rushing ypg. - third-best in the country - but were held to just 100 yards on 29 carries in the first half as the Aggies took a 9-7 lead. Cal Poly would've finished significantly below its rushing average but Kyle Lewis had a key 91-yard TD run with 2:54 left in the game that helped them finish with 320 on the night.
Overall, UC Davis held Cal Poly to 364 total yards, well below its 506.7 average
"The defense played its tail off for four quarters and I couldn't be more proud on how they performed," said head coach Ron Gould. "We had a lot of missed opportunities on offense that we didn't capitalize on but the fight was still there. We thought we'd have a chance to get the onsides kick and have another opportunity to go down and score another touchdown but we fell short.
"The fight and grit with this team is pretty special," he added. "This team has a lot of heart."
The Aggies jumped to a quick lead, thanks to their third defensive touchdown of the season and the second one to come on a fumble return. With first down at the UC Davis 28, Cal Poly looked to keep the ball on the ground but quarterback Dano Graves lost 11 yards and fumbled the ball which was scooped up by Baumgart at the 39 in front of the UC Davis bench. His teammates gave him a convoy as he raced untouched for the score. Matt Blair missed the extra point, keeping the score at 6-0.
The Mustangs used a 10-play, 77-yard drive over the latter part of the first quarter and the early part of the second to take a 7-6 lead after Graves kept it himself for a 1-yard score. Luuga highlighted the Aggies' ensuing drive with a 48-yard run down to Cal Poly's 8 and Joshua Kelley took it to the 3 but the Mustangs eventually forced UC Davis to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Blair.
Luuga gained 113 yards in the first half and the Aggies outgained Cal Poly, 176-144, while taking a 9-7 lead into the break. The Mustangs grabbed the lead for good midway through the third quarter when Graves took advantage of good field position to drive Cal Poly 45 yards in eight plays before rushing up the middle 14 yards for a touchdown that made it 14-9.
Neither team was able to find paydirt from there and UC Davis looked to take advantage of a great defensive stand that stopped the Mustangs on fourth down late in the fourth quarter. However, the Aggies were forced to punt and Cal Poly took it at their own 8 with 4:04 to while holding a slim lead. But, facing a third-and-9, the Mustangs gave the ball to Lewis around the right side and he raced 91 yards for the back-breaking score.
Scott engineered a clock-managing 75-yard drive for UC Davis in the final few minutes that was highlighted by fourth-down completions to tight end Dan Plum and Doss, including the latter which put the Aggies in business at the 5 after a 21-yard play. Scott then hit Doss for a short score with 44 seconds left to make it 21-16 but the Mustangs recovered the onsides kick to secure the win.
Luuga carried the ball 15 times for his 118 yards while Scott went 19-35-1 for 182 yards and a touchdown. Lewis finished with 141 yards for Cal Poly while Joe Protheroe had 95 yards on 27 carries. Mekia Sheffie had 13 tackles to pace the Mustangs' defense.
The Aggies will now head into their lone bye week of the season before returning to action with a Nov. 5 home matchup against Portland State.