Uneven Blue Devils ground Eagles, 35-28

By Bruce Gallaudet

In the stands, it was a festive mood as a football crowd pushing 1,900 enjoyed Homecoming festivities at Ron & Mary Brown Stadium on Friday.

On the sidelines, however, there was some anguish.

Davis High head coach Steve Smyte wasn’t thrilled with his team’s performance — albeit a 35-28 victory over Pleasant Grove.

Eight dropped passes, four failed visits to the red zone, some breakdowns in pass coverage and a less-than-stellar overall defensive outing gave Smyte pause in summarizing his crew’s sixth win against only one loss.

Blue Devil Payne Barksdale is able to pull away from Pleasant Grove defensive back Ben Pernetti to pick up a key third-down distance in the closing minutes of Friday’s game. Mike Trask/Enterprise photo

“We didn’t play well, period,” the coach told The Enterprise. “I wasn’t happy about one thing. We made some … dumb plays.

“We didn’t catch the ball, we didn’t finish well, our offensive line as a whole … we just didn’t play well. We didn’t play a good football game, I don’t think. Certainly it wasn’t what we’re capable of and how we expect to play. We weren’t there.”

But isn’t that the characteristic of a good team, coach? That you can play poorly and still come away with a win?

“Yeah, maybe. I don’t know,” Smyte answered. “What I told the guys, how we measure ourselves is ‘Are we making improvements? Are we getting better?’ Tonight we didn’t meet those standards we set for ourselves.”

Davis stuck its nose out front when a 3-yard swing pass to Eagle Kevin Watt became a Devil touchdown when linebacker Andrew Baum returned a Joey Asta-created fumble 55 yards to The House.

Pleasant Grove quickly caught up, converting three third downs en route to a 10-play, 74-yard scoring journey. QB Nathan Valencia sealed the deal with a 1-yard plunge on fourth down.

Xavier Chambers, the speedy Blue Devil wideout, answered when he took in stride a 39-yard strike from Luke Carrell. Neil Smith made his second point-after.

DHS safety Donovan Garvin (15) returns one of his two interceptions on Friday. Mike Trask/Enterprise photo

Despite some nifty defensive play by Davis in the second quarter, the locals couldn’t add to their 14-7 margin.

DHS had its chances but missed on two Teddy Oldham field-goal tries and sputtered further when usually sure-handed Blue Devil receivers dropped five passes in the first half alone. Uncharacteristically, Davis would drop three more after intermission.

Pleasant Grove stunned the assembled throng when it opened the third period with a successful onside kick.

Starting from the Davis 42, a seven-play Eagle drive ended with a Valencia-to-Jacob Couchot 13-yard TD flip. When Charles Harris converted, things were tied at 14-14.

For a while, it looked like the 6-1 Devils had imposed their will on The Grove (4-3, 0-3).

Carrell capped a 65-yard march with a 2-yard run and Payne Barksdale was solidly back from a shoulder injury as he scurried in from 14 yards out.

Barksdale, who returned last week after missing the Devils’ first five games, was a busy guy. He would rush for 41 yards, catch four passes for another 61 and play some safety — at one point breaking up a Valencia pass.

But the Eagles — a team that was 0-10 in 2018 — showed their new-found resolve and continued to make this a game …

A 9-yard Valencia run kept Pleasant Grove within arm’s length at 28-21 going into the final stanza.

Even after Davis’ Aaron Turner ran in from 2 yards out with only 4:47 remaining, the Eagles had one more flight.

A lightning-quick 65-yard march that took just 1:09 resulted in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Valencia to Couchot. Couchot got himself wide open on a post pattern. Harris’ kick made it 35-28. It was the kind of big play that had Smyte miffed.

Mike Trask/Enterprise photo

However, by this time the Devils had noted their mentor’s consternation, because with 3:38 left, DHS kept the ball for the final eight plays, Carrell taking a knee twice at the end.

Tailbacks Taylor Vaughn and Aaron Turner were again key ingredients in Davis’ control of the clock. In keeping the ball more than 26 minutes, the Devils got 138 yards from the senior Vaughn and 56 more and a score from junior Turner.

For the season, Turner has 729 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Vaughn is at 623 after missing a couple of games.

Carrell, who drew Smyte’s praise for his accuracy, was unlucky in throwing for 125 yards on 7 of 18. A pick killed one of his team’s red-zone misadventures, but those without those eight dropped balls, this close game could have been a Davis rout.

“Luke was spinning the ball pretty well,” offered the DHS coach. “But he can’t catch it for them, too.”

The Delta League plot thickens this Friday. Davis will entertain Jesuit (3-4, 2-1), a 38-35 winner against visiting Elk Grove on Saturday.

“I fully anticipate that we’re coming back and we’re going to play a great game against Jesuit because we’re not going to be lollygagging through practices — we don’t have anything to lollygag about.”

Notes: Davis is 2-1 in conference and one more win in its last three games would assuredly lock up a third postseason berth in the last four seasons. … Even with Smyte growling about his team’s inconsistency, there were some defensive highlights. Former Colorado residents Donovan and Brennan Garvin made their presence felt. Donovan had two picks and six tackles to go along with two stops and a defended pass. Brennan grabbed an INT. … Cornerback Tendai Gundumura defended six passes and made two tackles. Linebacker Zach Brooks — also a key blocking ingredient as the H-back — recorded a game-high 10 tackles. He now has 68 in 2019. Asta broke up three passes and made six stops, while lineman Gerad Christian-Lichtenhan knocked down a pass and added a key drive-hampering tackle. … From the A Good Time Was Had by All Dept: Halftime royalty floats were presented after earlier being part of the afternoon’s Homecoming Parade from downtown to campus. The Class of 1969, celebrating their 60th reunion, were out in force and UC Davis player/coaching legend Bob Biggs was on hand. 

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at bgallaudet41@gmail.com or call 530-320-4456.

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