By Jeremy Hoeck
Three hundred fifty-five days.
That’s how long it had been since the USD football team last won a game. Until Saturday afternoon, however, when the Coyotes upended UC Davis 10-7 in the season opener at the DakotaDome.
Far from a mistake-free game, the Coyotes were able to do just enough on offense — thanks to a newly-installed read option scheme — to back a dominant defensive effort.
“These are the games we were losing last year, those close games in the fourth quarter,” said junior quarterback Josh Vander Maten, who combined for 124 yards of offense and one score.
The visiting Aggies, picked to finish 11th in the Big Sky Conference, got within three points on a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:50 remaining.
USD’s 1-2 punch at running back, Trevor Bouma and Jordan Roberts, however, finished the game in style, with runs of 25, 12 and 9 yards on the final drive to help wind down the clock.
From there, the Coyotes got to use something they didn’t bust out much in 2012: The victory formation.
“One game doesn’t make a season, I know that,” said head coach Joe Glenn, who called himself “giddy” after the game. “But we needed to have the scoreboard show the effort and the love they’ve given.”
Specifically on the defensive side.
The Aggies were just 4-of-13 on third down and missed other chances to score — Davis fumbled the ball, missed a field goal and had another field goal blocked by an aggressive USD defense.
“Everyone talked about it all week, that the physical team is going to win the game,” junior safety Devin Taverna said. “Communication was big for us.
“The more we communicate, the more physical we end up playing.”
Davis rolled up 267 yards of total offense, highlighted by 91 on the ground from Gabe Manzanares. Asked later if there was anything about USD that surprised him, first-year Davis head coach Ron Gould was direct.
“Not one thing,” Gould said. “Going in, we felt great. They have a pretty salty defense, but we felt like we could run the ball on them. We were able to do that a little bit.”
Each team missed a field goal in the first half and each had a big play called back because of a penalty — USD lost an interception and Davis lost a touchdown pass.
Missed opportunities told the story, for both sides, in the first half.
The Coyotes recovered a fumble three plays into Davis’ first drive, but could do nothing with an 18-yard field — freshman Miles Bergner missed a 30-yard field goal.
The lone score in the opening 30 minutes was scored on a Vander Maten 3-yard run at the 13:16 mark of the second quarter.
Davis made a switch at quarterback to Boise State transfer Jimmy Laughrea to start the ensuing series, and his 27-yard touchdown pass to Tom Hemmingsen was called back because of holding. The Aggies then missed a 45-yard field goal try.
The Coyotes closed the half with a flourish on special teams. Dyllan Knox blocked a field goal at the halftime horn to preserve the shutout.
After the first five drives of the third quarter resulted in punts, the Coyotes put together their best drive of the game early in the fourth.
Thirteen plays for 45 yards. Bergner booted a 39-yard field goal — the first of his career — with 7:31 remaining.
Thanks to a questionable pass interference call on USD on the next series, Davis marched down the field and scored on a 1-yard run by Manzanares with 3:50 remaining.
USD, however, kept the chains moving on the ensuing drive to eek out a win. It wasn’t exactly something the Coyotes were used to, Glenn pointed out, after losing five games last year by a touchdown or less.
“We played a lot of those games last year and didn’t win,” Glenn said. “This team shows a certain fight that we maybe didn’t have a year ago, a playmaking ability, and it showed at the end of the game.”
For the Coyotes, it’s on to Kansas next Saturday. Though, in terms of preparing for the Jayhawks, Glenn pointed out that Kansas has yet to play game, so there isn’t much of a measuring stick.
You can follow Jeremy Hoeck on Twitter at twitter.com/jhoeck