Aggies Down Knights to Win DIAA
Aggies Down Knights to Win DIAA
The UC Davis Aggies are the Men’s DIAA college champions after defeating Central Florida in a hard slog of a final 18-15 at Kennesaw State University’s Fifth Third Bank Stadium Saturday.
The Aggies had to come back from a 15-3 halftime deficit to do it, but eventually worse down a UCF team used to putting away their opposition early.
Both teams played a very forward-oriented game, and that produced a spectacle short on adventurous backline play, and long on massive collisions at the breakdown.
There were moments of open-field running, but in the end, it was who could survive the slog longer.
Davis got on the board first, although it took them a while. Both teams missed penalty opportunities, before Aggie No. 8 Benjamin Daniel slotted a penalty goal at 15 minutes. UCF replied soon thereafter with a kick from flyhalf Grady Barnard, and then Barnard gave his side the lead with a nice weaving run for a try.
Up 8-3, UCF want back to their bread and butter, running it up with the forwards and looking to pummel their opposition into submission. But, used to shoving lesser defenses back with ease, the Central Florida forwards were guilty of being a shade high when going into contact. That made it easier for the Davis defense to slow them down.
Still, they had to defend, and eventually the defense broke. UCF sent the ball out wide and lock Christian Rossi strode through a gap like a center and then sidestepped past two more to score a brilliant try. Hooker Josh Massanova slotted the conversion, and the Dark Knights were up 15-3 at halftime.
“We talked about how it was very easy to get here,” said UC Davis center Nathan Oliviera. “But this was by far the toughest team we’d played, and we had to play like champions to win.”
And so they did. Davis started stripped the ball out of UCF hands when the Central Florida players went into contact. Used to being up by a significant margin by half-time, the UCF forwards began to tire, and Davis began to produce more continuity on offense.
A long series of pick-and-jams and short passes to the inside channels got Davis close to the UCF line, and the reserve prop Ian McCaffrey powered over from short range to make it 15-8.
More Davis offense produced a penalty about 40 meters out, which scrumhalf Josh Campos put over. Now it was 15-11.
It all came down to the final ten minutes. On the restart after the penalty, neither team controlled the ball but eventually Davis got it, and they just started to work their way down the field. With a Central Florida player in the sin bin they had a little more space to work with, and for several minutes were camped out on the UCF line. Both teams were putting five or six players into the rucks, and the back lines started to compress toward the middle of the field. If anyone had wanted to go for the corner, it sat there, unmarked.
With seven minutes to go Davis got a penalty for hands in the ruck right in front of the posts. They opted to run the penalty, and UCF forced a scrum. That seemed to be UCF’s savior, but Davis shoved hard on the scrum and a desperate pass out of the back went to no one, rolling dead, and giving Davis one more attacking scrum. From there, the Aggies ran several pick-and-jams to try to shove the ball over the line. UCF held firm, but finally the opportunity presented itself and Campus sent it to the backs, where Oliviera had a free run to the tryline and a Davis lead of 18-15.
That was it - a game of power runs with the forwards won by an open-field try from a back.
“It was a complete team effort, I was just fortunate to be the one to score,” said Oliviera.
The result ends a run of two straight national DIAA titles for Central Florida, and caps off a superb season for UC Davis, which finished the Pacific Western Conference undefeated before going 3-0 in the playoffs. Oddly, bookending a season of huge victories for the Aggies, were the first result of the season, over Chico State, and the final win over UCF, both by scored of 18-15.
UC Davis 18
Tries: McCaffrey, Oliviera
Pens: Benjamin, Campos
Central Florida 15
Tries: Barnard, Rossie