Aggies Win Football Thriller Over Gaels, 31-28

Nov. 2, 2002

Final Stats

DAVIS, Calif. - Wide receiver Kevin Freeman's 14-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter put the Aggies in the lead for good - and the defense made it stand up by forcing a last-minute fumble - as fifth-ranked UC Davis edged Saint Mary's, 31-28, in a collegiate football game on Saturday before 8,850 fans at Toomey Field.

UC Davis won its seventh straight game, improving to 7-1. Saint Mary's, which rushed for 198 yards, dropped to 5-5. The Aggies' victory sets up a showdown at Central Washington next Saturday. The Wildcats, ranked No.1 in the NCAA West Region poll and No.7 by the AFCA, beat Humboldt State, 41-14, on Saturday to improve to 10-0. UC Davis is ranked third in the regional poll but could move to second thanks to Eastern New Mexico's 37-34 upset against Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday.

"When we had to, we found a way to come back and answer the bellh. That's the sign of a good team."
UC Davis Coach Bob Biggs

UC Davis running back Matt Massari rushed for 180 yards on 27 carries - his fourth straight 100-yard game - and scored a pair of one-yard touchdown runs to highlight the Aggies' rushing attack. Quarterback Ryan Flanigan completed 24 of 34 passes for 265 yards and a pair of scores, but was intercepted three times by Saint Mary's defensive back Greg Kavulich.

"During the course of a season you are going to face some good football teams," said UC Davis coach Bob Biggs. "Saint Mary's came up with a defense scheme that we weren't quite ready for. And offensively they give you so many different looks. But I thought we showed great resilience and character in this game.

"When we had to, we found a way to come back and answer the bell," he added. "That's the sign of a good team."

Quarterback Trevor Johnston's third touchdown of the game, a two-yard rush with 10:46 left in the fourth quarter, put the Gaels in the lead, 28-24. However, starting at their own 23, the Aggies drove to the Gaels' 14-yard line, finishing the 8-play, 77-yard drive on Flanigan's 14-yard touchdown pass to Freeman in the back of the end zone with 6:40 remaining.

A 46-yard field goal attempt by Saint Mary's placekicker Ezequiel Arevalo was short with 3:27 to go and UC Davis tried to run out the clock with a final drive. But defensive back Ramon Burley-Johnson stripped Flanigan of the ball at midfield with 1:59 to go, giving Saint Mary's a final try. Facing a fourth-and-one from the UC Davis 27 with under a minute remaining, Saint Mary's turned the ball back over as linebacker Dominic Ghio forced a fumble by the Gaels' Clint Wilson, which was recovered by Kelly Valaau. UC Davis then ran out the clock, preserving the win.

"It is a credit to this team today in that they kept battling back and our defense kept giving our offense another chance," said Biggs. "Saint Mary's is a good football team. Give credit where credit is due. They cause a lot of problems and are well-coached. We won against a good football team."

UC Davis jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Flanigan to Christian Nordhausen and - after a Saint Mary's fumble deep in Aggie territory - a one-yard plunge from Massari. However, rushing touchdowns by Johnston from one and two yards inside the final six minutes of the second quarter tied the score before a late, 10-play, 55-yard drive by the Aggies was capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Massari with 16 seconds to go.

Wilson 32-yard touchdown run up the middle tied it, 21-21, before a 32-yard field goal by Dusty Apocotos early in the fourth quarter put UC Davis ahead again, 24-21, setting up the exciting final minutes.

Massari has rushed for at least 100 yards the last four games - including 221 in last week's win at Cal Poly - and now has 1,076 for the season, becoming just the ninth Aggie to eclipse the 1,000-yard barrier in a season. Receiver Michael Oliva caught six passes for 46 yards and Michael Eaglin caught four passes for 59.

Wilson carried the ball 19 times for 95 yards for Saint Mary's, while Johnston completed seven of 11 passes for 136 yards. Kavulich had three interceptions in the game to lead Saint Mary's defense. Ghio had 10 total tackles, Valaau had nine, and he and defensive tackle Josh Vavao split a sack for UC Davis.

UC Davis finished the game wih 474 yards in total offense, including 224 yards on the ground, while Saint Mary's had 334 total yards; 198 of them rushing, which is the most against the Aggies this season.

The Aggies' game at Central Washington begins at noon next Saturday.