Nov. 22, 2003
DAVIS, Calif. -
Receiver Vincent Jackson caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Tony Christensen with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining Saturday afternoon - part of Jackson's 176 receiving yards - as 20th-ranked Northern Colorado beat UC Davis 35-28 in a collegiate football game played before 6,517 fans at Toomey Field.
UC Davis, which secured its 34th consecutive winning season last week, ended its first season transitioning from NCAA DIvision II to I-AA status with a 6-4 record. Northern Colorado, another Division II program in its first year reclassifying to I-AA, finished 9-2.
Trailing 21-14 entering the fourth quarter, UC Davis tied the game twice before the Bears took the lead for good.
Running back Adam Matthews rushed for 164 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries for the Bears while Northern Colorado's defense held the Aggies to just 31 rushing yards. Receiver Kevin Freeman had a career-high 152 receiving yards and scored on a short catch for UC Davis, while running back O.J. Swanigan scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground.
UC Davis quarterback Ryan Flanigan passed for 284 yards and two touchdowns while linebacker Kelly Valaau, strong safety A.J. Avila and free safety Ejiro Evero had 13, 12, and 11 tackles, respectively. UC Davis also had three interceptions.
"This game had the feel and atmosphere of a bowl game," said Aggie coach Bob Biggs. "In the third quarter every play was a big play. The game had flavor and intensity to it. It was fun. To me it was a good baptism of what to expect in the future."
Swanigan's seven-yard touchdown run just 18 seconds before halftime tied the game 14-14, setting up a see-saw third quarter that was scoreless until Christensen hit the streaking Jackson on a 60-yard touchdown pass on first down with just 19 seconds left.
UC Davis tied the game twice in the fourth quarter, the first on an 8-yard pass from Flanigan to Freeman with 12:49 to go, and the second on a 23-yard strike from Flanigan to receiver Jesse Oliva
at the 8:08 mark. Those scores were sandwiched around a 19-run scamper by Matthews with 10:40 remaining.
The Aggies had a chance to tie the game with a late drive, getting a critical first down with just over three minutes to play on a pass interference penalty that put the ball at UC Davis' 45. However, facing a fourth-and-six at the 49, Flanigan's pass to Oliva on the sidelines fell incomplete and Northern Colorado was able to run out the clock.
"They're very similar to us," said Biggs. "They are good academically, well-coached and disciplined. It was a very competitive, well-fought game. We earned their respect and they earned ours. It's the start of a good rivalry."
Swanigan led UC Davis with 40 yards rushing but the Bears stifled the Aggies overall, holding UC Davis to just 31 net rushing yards on 27 carries. Flanigan completed 20 of 38 passes as the Aggies finished with 359 total yards.
Northern Colorado got within the Aggies' 20 twice in the first quarter but interceptions by cornerback Michael Penna at the six-yard line and Evero at the one-yard line thwarted those threats. UC Davis capitalized on the latter, striking quickly in three plays. Flanigan found Freeman for a 46-yard gain and then receiver Billy Zeier hit Freeman for 44 more yards on a double-pass. Swanigan then danced in from three yards as UC Davis led 7-0 late in the period.
A one-yard run by Matthews with 9:14 to go in the half capped a 16-play, 78-yard drive for the Bears, while his six-yard touchdown run with 3:30 left gave Northern Colorado a 14-7 lead.
The Bears finished with 518 yards in total offense, including 334 passing and 184 on the ground. Addtionally, Northern Colorado was 12 of 20 on third-down attempts and held the ball more than nine minutes longer than UC Davis. The Bears also had five sacks.
Valaau posted his fourth straight game with double-digit tackles, collecting 13 against Northern Colorado, including a sack. He also forced a fumble that was recovered by Avila, who had 12 tackles and an interception. Evero had seven solo tackles - and 11 stops overall - to go with his interception.
UC Davis, ineligible for the postseason during its four-year transition to Division I-AA status, continued its streak of winning seasons in 2003, collecting its Division II-record 34th straight despite losing two of its first three games by a total of five points.
Along the way UC Davis had exciting wins over I-AA rivals Sacramento State and Saint Mary's, also beating North Dakota State, Western Oregon, Western Washington and Central Washington.
"When we were 1-2 early on it was a gut check for us," said Biggs. "We met as a team and needed to make some decisions. There was a void and I think that is when the leadership of this team really surfaced.
"We didn't have the carrot dangling in front of us, we had a lot of early injuries and we were 1-2," he added. "But we were competitive in every single game and that's a tribute to the players on this team."