Coming off a season-opening win over Navy, Stanford had an opportunity for an even greater victory in Palo Alto on Saturday night. But its valiant effort came up just short as the Cardinal fell 20–17 to a powerhouse UC Davis team. The victorious Aggies, in transition from Division II, are only two years away from becoming a full-fledged member of Division I–AA.
For much of the evening, it looked as though the Cardinal would pull off the unthinkable. Thanks to two touchdowns off fumbles, Stanford held a 17–0 lead midway through the second quarter. But you can’t keep a juggernaut like UC Davis down for long. The Aggies closed to within 17–14 in the third quarter and even missed two potential game-tying field goal attempts in the fourth. Finally, the plucky Cardinal succumbed to the inevitable as UC Davis scored the winning touchdown with eight seconds remaining. Stanford can find consolation in gaining close to 200 yards of total offense against a team that is clearly ready for Division I–AA right now.
It’s a wonder that the Cardinal was able to stay competitive in this contest. In their first two games, the Aggies only lost to New Hampshire and Portland State by a combined six points. Also, UC Davis is a member of the vaunted Great West Conference, whose other members need no introduction: Cal Poly, North Dakota State, Northern Colorado, South Dakota State, and Southern Utah. When you travel to football hotbeds like Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Pac-10 stadiums are small potatoes. “UC Davis is a great program,” noted Stanford head coach Walt Harris. “Because that’s what their conference is named, and I’m sure the people who created it wouldn’t lie.”
Prior to Saturday night, Stanford had never lost to a non-Division I-A program. That amazing streak is now history, as the Cardinal could no longer buck the odds. UC Davis had not faced a current member of the Pac-10 since 1939, so it had 66 years to prepare a winning game plan for this matchup. The Aggies also had the revenge factor, as Stanford had won the only previous meeting between the schools, 59–0 in 1932. Members of that UC Davis team could not be reached for comment, but their corpses are undoubtedly smiling today.
The remainder of Stanford’s home schedule looks to be anticlimactic. AP #24 Oregon, #18 Arizona State, #25 UCLA, #13 California, and #16 Notre Dame are clearly not on the same level as UC Davis. Hopefully the Cardinal fans savored their one opportunity to see a team like the Aggies.
Next week UC Davis stays on the road to take on Sacramento State. Hopefully the Aggies can regain their focus after the huge scare they received from Stanford.