Big Sky race off to fast start

Vanden is the only MEL team to come within 20 points of Vacaville in three of the past four years.  The Vikings lost 35-17 to the Bulldogs two years ago, their last loss on their way to the state 3-AA championship.

Will C. Wood lost 34-31 to Vacaville in 2018, three years after the Wildcats humbled the Bulldogs in a 49-26 victory. The Bulldogs’ last MEL loss was 28-21 to Napa in 2016. Vacaville has won 27 in a row since then.

One week was all it took for the Big Sky Conference football season to be blown wide open. Three of the top four teams in the coaches’ preseason poll lost Saturday, proving again that predicting the order of finish before the first conference games are played is nothing more than premature propaganda.

Those three losses shuffled the FCS rankings. Idaho climbed from No. 10 to No. 6 by knocking off No. 4 Sacramento State 36-27.  The Hornets dropped to No. 9 with their first regular-season loss since 2021.

UC Davis tight end Josh Gale (81) keeps a grip on the ball as he celebrates with Ian Simpson (82) and Jordan Ford after his 6-yard touchdown reception last Saturday.

The Vandals enjoyed a 17-minute advantage in time of possession and contained Kaiden Bennett. The Hornets quarterback was held to 17 yards on 10 carries after running for 100 in each of Sacramento State’s past two games.

Idaho was predicted to finish fifth by the coaches and second in the media poll, so Big Sky coaches apparently do not know it all.  

Sacramento State was predicted to finish third. UC Davis was second, but the Aggies lost 27-24 to Eastern Washington to fall to 0-11 against the Eagles. UC Davis dropped from No. 15 to No. 20 in the rankings.

UC Davis maintained a 24-20 lead when the defense stopped Eastern Washington on fourth-and-goal at the 3-yard line with 3:08 to play in the third quarter. That forced the offense to take possession with bad field position.

Having to punt from the 3 when three plays produced nothing proved costly for UC Davis. Eastern Washington took possession at its 42 and marched 58 yards in nine plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Lan Larison rushed for 201 yards in the first half, including a 78-yard touchdown dash. The junior carried the Aggies to a touchdown on their first possession of the second half with nine carries for 54 yards. Miles Hastings capped the 12-play 75-yard drive with a 4-yard scoring pass to Trent Tompkins. 

That was the last series of the night for Larison, however. He sustained an undisclosed injury and could be out for “some time,” said Skip Powers, assistant director of athletics communications at UC Davis.

Larison’s departure allowed Vacaville High School graduate Darian Leon-Guerrero to get one carry and catch a 14-yard pass.

Hastings completed a season-high 75 percent (24 of 32) of his passes, but the junior averaged a 6.8 yards per completion – his lowest average in a game this season when he has completed 20 or more passes. Hastings had just one game last season in which he averaged fewer than 7 yards per completion.

UC Davis had a chance to tie it with 3:20 to play, but Hunter Ridley’s field-goal attempt from 31 yards was blocked. The sophomore had been 6-for-6 this season after a 41-yard field goal in the first quarter.

Saturday’s game at Cal Poly will be an opportunity for UC Davis to regain momentum. The Aggies have a six-game winning streak against the Mustangs and scored more than 40 points in three of those victories. 

Eastern Washington cracked into the rankings at No. 25 with the victory. The Eagles will host Idaho on Saturday.

Weber State was predicted to finish fourth by the coaches, but the Wildcats were whipped 40-0 at home by Montana State. The third-ranked Bobcats were predicted to finish first in the coaches and media polls. Weber State fell from No. 8 to No. 14 in the rankings.

Montana dropped from No. 11 to No. 16 in the rankings with a 28-14 loss at Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies were predicted to finish third in the media poll and sixth by the coaches. The victory was the first of the season for the Lumberjacks and their first in 15 games against a ranked opponent since 2018. 

The Grizzlies managed just 18 rushing yards in their first loss of the season. That was their lowest total since being held to 17 yards on the ground in a 17-10 loss to Weber State in 2019. 

Northern Arizona was predicted to finish eighth in the media poll and ninth by the coaches. The Lumberjacks will face another ranked team on Saturday when they travel to Sacramento State for a 6 p.m. game. 

Aggies are 0-10 against Eagles

Eric Barriere is gone, so UC Davis might have a fighting chance of beating Eastern Washington on Saturday night in Davis. And a win would be a first for the Aggies, who are 0-10 all-time against the Eagles and can blame Barriere for four of those losses because the quarterback made a difference in each of those four games.

In those four games, Barriere completed 101 of 150 passes for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns. He threw two interceptions and was sacked six times, including five in the Eagles’ 34-29 victory in the 2018 FCS playoffs. UC Davis, Eastern Washington and Weber State shared the Big Sky Conference championship five years ago.

Eastern Washington’s Eric Barriere had his way with UC Davis, passing for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns in four victories.

The five-point loss was the closest the Aggies came to beating Berriere and the Eagles. The playoff game came four weeks after UC Davis traveled to Cheney and was knocked out cold in a 59-20 victory. At least the Eagles were nice enough to shovel the snow from the red turf and provide sideline heaters for the Aggies.

Barriere threw for 285 yards and one touchdown, but the Eagles did not need anything more from him because they rushed for 370 yards and six touchdowns. Eastern Washington ran 94 offensive plays to 50 for UC Davis and had a 37:15-22:45 edge in time of possession. A 69-yard touchdown run by Tehran Thomas with 22 seconds to play in the second quarter left UC Davis trailing 21-17 at halftime.

Eastern Washington scored twice in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to blow the game open. Barriere’s touchdown pass came with 41 seconds remaining in the game, adding insult to injury for UC Davis. Why Barriere was still in the game with the Eagles leading by 32 points in the fourth quarter is anyone’s guess.

In the playoff rematch, UC Davis was 73 seconds away from its first victory against Eastern Washington after Jake Maier’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Ulonzo Gilliam. The Aggies passed on an extra-point attempt to tie the game and took the lead when Maier connected with Namane Modise for the two-point conversion.

Eastern Washington needed just 47 seconds to regain the lead. Berriere had a 29-yard run and then threw an 11-yard pass to Nsimba Webster. Focusing on Barriere cost the Aggies when Sam McPherson broke loose for a 35-yard touchdown run.

The next meeting came in April 2021 after the spread of COVID-19 led to the 2020 season being reduced to a five-game schedule in the spring. Berriere was 30-of-41 for 393 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his scoring passes came in the first half as the Eagles jumped out to a 16-0 lead on their way to a 32-22 victory.

It was more of the same seven months later when the teams met in Davis. Barriere was 34-of-54 for 411 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-20 victory. The Aggies finished the season with a three-game losing streak, falling 27-7 to Sacramento State in the Causeway Classic and 54-26 at South Dakota State in the playoffs.

Eastern Washington’s quarterback on Saturday will be redshirt sophomore Kekoa Visperas, who has thrown for 849 yards and five touchdowns in three games. The Eagles are 1-2 with losses to No. 2-ranked North Dakota State and Fresno State in double overtime. The Aggies are 2-1 and ranked 15th with their only loss coming at Oregon State, which is ranked 14th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Six Big Sky teams are ranked in the FCS coaches poll and there will be two battles of ranked teams on Saturday in the first week of the conference season. Third-ranked Montana State will travel to No. 8 Weber State and No. 4 Sacramento State will pay a visit No. 10 Idaho. Montana is No. 11 and will travel to Northern Arizona.