Nov. 23, 2002
ELLENSBURG, Wash. - UC Davis scored 14 early points and capitalized on a defense that held high-powered Central Washington in check throughout the game, as the No.13 Aggies upset previously unbeaten No.5 Central Washington, 24-6, on Saturday in the first round of the 2002 NCAA Division II Football Championships.
The victory propels UC Davis (9-2) into the regional final for the fourth straight year where the Aggies will face Texas A&M-Kingsville (9-2) next Saturday. The site and time of the game will be announced later, but it is expected to be at Kingsville since the Javelinas are seeded higher in the region.
Kingsville, seeded third, upset second-seeded Nebraska-Kearney, 58-40, on the road Saturday.
UC Davis quarterback Ryan Flanigan completed 16 of 19 passes for 266 yards, running back O.J. Swanigan rushed for 48 yards and a pair of five-yard scores, and receiver Michael Oliva caught five passes for a game-high 118 yards. Wildcats quarterback Zak Hill completed 27 of 48 passes for 272 yards, but was picked off twice by the Aggies' defense. Receiver Brian Potucek had nine catches for 90 yards.
The Aggies, making their seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance gained revenge on Saturday against the Wildcats (11-1) who beat UC Davis, 38-14, in Ellensburg on Nov. 9 after scoring 31 unanswered points.
"I really think a lot of the game is about desire," said Aggie coach Bob Biggs. "Our guys were motivated and, as coaches, we didn't need to say much."
The Aggies rode the motivation to score 14 points in the first quarter, the initial touchdown coming less than five minutes into the game when receiver Billy Zeier hit Kevin Freeman for a 34-yard score. On the play, Flanigan threw backwards to Zeier who had stepped back behind the line of scrimmage, and Zeier in turn found a wide-open Freeman near the end zone for the score.
"Billy made a great pass, so I just had to catch it," said Freeman, who had three catches for 100 yards in the game, including a 32-yarder in the third quarter that he hauled in after it slipped through Oliva's hands.
Trailing 7-0, Central Washington drove to the Aggies' 29, but faced with a fourth and 1, handed the ball back to UC Davis after Hill fumbled in the backfield. Flanigan then found Oliva on a 61-yard strike on the ensuing play and Swanigan darted in from five yards out two plays later to give UC Davis a 14-0 with 4:45 left in the first quarter.
The Wildcats got on the board with 17 seconds left in the opening period as running back Willie Johnson plunged in from a yard out to cap an 11-play, 68-yard drive. However, defensive lineman Josh Vavao blocked the extra point and UC Davis led 14-6.
A seven-play, 67-yard drive by UC Davis just before halftime was punctuated by Swanigan's second touchdown run as the Aggies went into the break with a 21-6 lead. UC Davis had just 117 yards of offense in the final two quarters after gaining 240 in the first half and scored their remaining points on Dusty Apocotos' 37-yard field with 3:22 left in the third.
It was the defense, however, that gained momentum throughout the game, holding the Wildcats out of the endzone over the final three quarters. Central Washington entered the contest averaging 39.6 ppg.
UC Davis held Johnson to just 48 yards rushing after he gained 131 two weeks ago. The Aggies also stifled the Wildcats' team rushing attack, limiting Central Washington to 30 net yards on 18 carries. They also picked off Hill two times, including one by Angelo Caffesse at the Aggies' five-yard line early in the fourth quarter, and another by Kwamin Taylor at midfield with just under six minutes remaining in the game.
"I really thought our defense played marvelous," said Biggs, who earned his 90th career win.
Defensive end Brett Lobel said UC Davis was a step faster than it was two weeks ago.
"I just thought being relentless made a big difference on the defensive side," he said. "It was just all about effort."
Strong safety A.J. Avila had a team-high nine tackles.
"They got on us early," said Central Washington coach John Zamberlin. "(UC Davis) stepped up and made the plays, bottom line."
UC Davis will play Kingsville in the playoffs for the second straight year after beating the Javelinas, 37-32, in the first round last year in Texas.