Nov. 16, 2002
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Running backs O.J. Swanigan and Elihu Vann combined for 308 yards rushing Saturday and the defense played a stellar game, as No.14 UC Davis battled through fierce weather conditions to beat Western Washington, 14-7, at Civic Stadium, virtually assuring the Aggies their seventh straight berth into the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
UC Davis, ranked fourth in the most recent NCAA West Region poll, improved to 8-2. The Aggies could be headed to Ellensburg, Wash., and face unbeaten Central Washington (11-0) - the region's top-ranked team - in next Saturday's first round if regional rankings hold. Western Washington finished its season with a 6-4 record.
The Vikings had a final drive to try and tie the game on Saturday, but Aggie punter Chris Shibel's kick stopped at the Western Washington 3-yard line with 1:44 remaining and UC Davis held on four downs before gaining possession and running out the clock.
While UC Davis piled 336 yards rushing and 420 in total offense, the Aggies' defense turned in one of its best games of the year, holding the Vikings to just 176 yards in total offense, including just five yards rushing. The Aggies also recorded four sacks.
"We did what we had to do," said UC Davis Coach Bob Biggs. "It was a great effort."
Swanigan rushed for a career-high 178 yards on 31 carries, scoring on a one-yard rush on the first play of the second quarter that helped put the Aggies up 7-0. Vann had 130 rushing yards on 22 carries for his second 100-yard game of the season as UC Davis posted dual 100-yard rushers for the second time this year. The Aggies' 336 total rushing yards marked the first time they've eclipsed the 300-yard mark since gaining 303 at Western Oregon two years ago.
Swanigan and Vann were pressed for extra-duty after starter Matt Massari left the game with injury in the first quarter and did not return.
"I thought O.J. and Elihu read well," said Biggs. "Elihu ran with power and O.J. had great vision."
Weather was a major factor in the game as fierce winds - estimated to be as much as 40 miles per hour at times - combined with increasing rain made conditions unusually tough and miserable. UC Davis used the wind at its back for the first and fourth quarters.
Swanigan's plunge from a yard out with 14:56 left in the first half capped a five-play, 80-yard drive for the Aggies and put them up 7-0. The defense held on three downs on the Vikings' next possession and Vann finished off a 9-play, 58-yard drive on the Aggies' ensuing drive with a four-yard touchdown run that gave UC Davis a 14-0 lead with 8:02 remaining in the second quarter.
Western Washington was held in check most of the rest of the way, but cut the lead in half with 7:29 to go in the game as quarterback Josh Shimek connected on a short pass to Andy Olson, which Olson then turned into a 58-yard score after scampering 40 yards down the sidelines.
But that was the only play longer than 22 yards on Saturday for Western Washington, which passed for 171 yards.
"This was an outstanding defense effort," said Biggs. "(The team) came out with a real determination today. We played tough in all three phases of the game because it (weather) was really tough out there."
Quarterback Ryan Flanigan completed five of nine passes for 84 yards, including a 69-yarder to Michael Oliva. The Aggies' 84 passing yards marked the first time they didn't have at least 100 in a game since only compiling 82 at Cal Poly in 1991. The 14 points were their lowest winning total since a 13-10 victory over Sacramento State two years ago.
Free safety Ejiro Evero had seven tackles and broke a pair of passes for the Aggies' defense, while defensive tackle Josh Vavao had a pair of sacks, totalling 13 yards. Aaron Latzke and strong safety A.J. Avila each recovered fumbles with Avila also forcing one. The Aggies only had one turnover in the game.
"I'm really proud of what the team did," said Biggs. "This has been a very fulfilling season."
UC Davis should return to the postseason for the seventh straight year after advancing to the NCAA Semifinals four of the past six. If the Aggies face the Wildcats next weekend, it'll mark the second straight game against UC Davis for Central Washington, which is 11-0 after finishing its regular season with a 38-14 victory over the Aggies last week.
Texas A&M-Kingsville (8-2), No.3 in the region, was the only other West Region team in the top four to play on Saturday, recording a win over Angelo State (Texas). Second-ranked Nebraska-Kearney (9-1) had a bye.
Pairings for the 16-team NCAA Division II Championships will be announced on Sunday afternoon.