Friday, April 26, 2013

Farm vs. Farm, Redux

Those who chose to skip Thursday night's episode of Community or forgo the Freeborn Hall appearance of electronic music wunderkind Porter Robinson in favor of the UC Davis women's lacrosse season finale against Stanford certainly appreciate their decision.

For the official recap of the game, head to the main athletics website. You can read the basic blow-by-blow here. The shorter version is that the Aggies gave their senior class the ultimate sendoff with a 15-14 overtime upset of 14th-ranked Stanford. The win ended a streak of more than 13 years and 19 Cardinal series victories. The last time UC Davis had beaten Stanford in women's lacrosse was on April 2, 2000.

For some context, among the events in April 2000 was the custody battle for Elian Gonzalez, the opening of AT&T Park and Metallica's lawsuit against Napster.

It also continued what has become an interesting matchup against Stanford across all of our sports. I'd argue that a victory over the Cardinal feels more satisfying than one over our "official" rival Sacramento State. Part of it is Stanford's relative stature: it's an exemplary athletics department who fields successful teams while maintaining the highest academic standards (perhaps to their own detriment at time). Their coaches still teach P.E. classes, just like ours. Whether we want to admit it or not, UC Davis looks to Stanford as a role model as it continues to grow its Division I athletics program -- they are what we aspire to be.

Plus, they're just damn good. It's the proverbial David & Goliath story. You know, if David used a yellow ball and a Harrow Sports stick instead of a stone and a sling.

* * * * *

Any Aggie win over the Cardinal harkens back to the 2005-06 school year, when UC Davis defeated Stanford six times in five different sports. For those who need a refresher on that, here's how it went:

MEN'S SOCCER: UC Davis 1, Stanford 0 (Sept. 4) 
Dan Campbell scored the match's lone goal 29 seconds after entering the game for an injury substitution

FOOTBALL: UC Davis 20, Stanford 17 (Sept. 17)
Jon Grant orchestrated an 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ended on a three-yard TD strike to Blaise Smith with eight seconds remaining.

MEN'S BASKETBALL: UC Davis 64, Stanford 58 (Dec. 4)
Phil Rasmussen had 18 points and nine rebounds and Kyle Brucculeri hit two key three-pointers to lead the Aggies to their first win of the season in front of a crowd of 5,386.

WRESTLING: UC Davis 38, Stanford 6 (Jan. 27)
In the one sport where UC Davis was arguably the favorite, Aggies won all seven bouts contested, including a third-round pin by 141-pounder Derek Moore. The only Cardinal team points came from an injury forfeit.

BASEBALL: UC Davis 3, Stanford 0 (May 26); UC Davis 8, Stanford 3 (May 27).
Senior Michael Potter fired a three-hit shutout to beat the Cardinal at Sunken Diamond on a Friday night game. The following day, this time at UC Davis' Dobbins Stadium, Vince DeCoito went 8.2 innings and Aaron Hanke launched a three-run shot in the third to lead the Aggies to an 8-3 victory and the team's only series win of the year.

The last time UC Davis beat a ranked Stanford team was a little more than a year ago, when softball sniped a 2-1 win over the then-No. 8 Cardinal. JJ Wagoner hit a one-out triple in the seventh, then freshman Cassie Ginnis knocked in the walk-off RBI single on the next at-bat.

The Aggie softball team nearly took a second upset from Stanford later that year. Justine Vela had a no-hitter going into the fourth when rain halted the game before it could count as an official contest. Trailing 2-0 at the stoppage, the 19th-ranked Cardinal escaped a season sweep a la baseball seven years earlier. Perhaps that tree mascot started frantically doing a rain dance over on Galvez after Kelly Harman hit her two-run homer in the first inning.

* * * * *

But back to lacrosse.

That the upset took place on Senior Night is hardly a coincidence: besides the obvious emotional boost that surrounds such an event, the five seniors all played huge roles in the victory. The win was just as much because of them as it was for them.

#27 Elizabeth Datino: The UC Davis career assist leader and No. 2 all-time scorer did what she does best, she scored goals. Five of them, in fact. Her final goal in a UC Davis uniform was the game-winner with 2.5 seconds left in overtime. Datino is a future Aggie Hall of Famer who scored 149 career goals. None will be more memorable to her than the last one.

#13 Hannah Mirza: The Aggies' all-time leader in draw controls added a team-high five of that stat to her total, bringing it to 170. She also scored the equalizer with less than two minutes in regulation, forcing the overtime; then had the huge ground ball pickup that became an assist to Meghan Jordan to retie the game at 14-14 with a minute left in OT. When Stanford took possession at that point, all the Cardinal had to do was protect the ball and kill the clock. Mirza's hustle gave UC Davis one more chance.

#8 Tess Alekna: Two ground balls and a caused turnover, including one of each on a blocked pass in the second three-minute overtime. She also beat out a couple of Stanford attackers to win the loose ball caused by Mary Doyle's stick check late in regulation. With the Cardinal beginning to click on offense down the stretch, these plays proved to be huge momentum-changers.

#23 Stephanie Guercio: Like Alekna, her contributions did not appear on the boxscore quite like those of her more attack-oriented teammates, although two draw controls and two ground balls marks a solid game any way you look at it. However, she literally infuriated Stanford players with her relentlessly aggressive play. Every sport has a sizable mental aspect. Though it does not show up on the stat sheet, I'd bet no Aggie got into the Cardinal players' heads like my favorite Long Islander.

#6 Anna Geissbuhler: Okay, I'll admit a real soft spot for her finale. A three-year starter and one of the program's career assists leaders, Anna had seen relatively little action as a senior. Nonetheless, she got the start and made the most of it. No, Geissbuhler didn't add to her career offensive totals, but she came up huge in that final minute. After Jordan's goal made it 14-14 with 53 seconds left, whichever team won the next draw would get the lone remaining opportunity to win the game before a sudden-victory period. Lacrosse has no shot clock, meaning a team with possession in its attacking third can take the maximum amount of time to set up for one shot and one shot only.

The ball bounced around like in a pinball machine as both teams battled for that last chance. Geissbuhler came from almost out of nowhere to control the draw, then immediately crossed into the attacking end to allow the Aggies to set up on offense.

Did I say one shot only? Correction: because of Geissbuhler, it was two. Mirza took what should have been the final shot, and missed wide. Like a basketball team crashing the offensive boards, Geissbuhler rounded up the ground ball and delivered to Datino, whose second-chance shot split the pipes for the GW.

When head coach Kate Henwood addressed the players and families at the postgame reception in the Bruce Edwards Club Room, she summed it up by saying, "You can't write a better story." Believe me, I know. As she said this, I was working on the official recap, trying to do it justice while clinging to a "just the facts" level of objectivity. I knew I couldn't do it justice. Even now, with this blog allowing me another crack at it, I still can't do it.

May 1 update: UC Davis softball continued the Farm vs. Farm ’13 run with a 5-4 victory at LaRue Field. This marks three straight victories, all in the final dramatic moments of the contest, for Aggie teams against Stanford in a span of about five weeks. Nick Lynch rapped a two-out RBI single in the ninth to lead UC Davis baseball to a 2-1 victory on March 26, Datino had the game-winner in lacrosse's April 25 season finale, then shortstop Christa Castello delivered a two-run, bases-loaded single to cap a three-run seventh.

Let the mad scramble begin for fall-sports coaches to become the next team to host Stanford. There's some good mojo going, and the streak is still alive.

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, serves as the primary contact for five sports: men's water polo, women's volleyball, women's gymnastics, women's lacrosse and women's water polo. His senior classes have included some of the very best UC Davis careers in their respective sports: Allison Whitson finished as volleyball's No. 2 leader in kills, gymnast Katie Yamamura set the school all-around and vault records... twice each, Jessica Dunn and Carmen Eggert rank among water polo's top three all-time scorers, and Riane Woods will finish second in career saves.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Who is Ken O'Brien?"

The query above is not a Jeopardy question - at least not to UC Davis football fans - but to former NFL quarterback Dan Marino, it was one of the first things he uttered after finding out that O'Brien, and not himself, was the New York Jets' first-round pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.

Marino wasn't a happy camper and there were more than a few groans as well from the Jets faithful who crowded into the New York Sheraton waiting to hear Marino's name as the 24th pick. Marino went to Miami three picks later and I heard had an alright pro career. 

Marino recalls that moment as part of ESPN's "30 for 30" ("From Elway to Marino") documentary series that that looks back at a draft celebrated for its six quarterbacks taken in the first round. It airs at 5 p.m. (Pacific) but check, as they say, your local listings.

It's a class that saw John Elway (Stanford), Todd Blackledge (Penn State), Jim Kelly (Miami), Tony Eason (Illinois), O'Brien, and Marino (Pittsburgh) make history. Super Bowls, Pro Bowls and Hall of Fame careers were spawned on Apr. 26, 1983, and 30 years later, the celebrated draft returns to football fans' consciousness just as this year's NFL Draft takes center stage.

Ken O'Brien - BEFORE
O'Brien enjoyed a three-year UC Davis career (1980-82) that, to that point, was the best in school history. He threw for 6,637 yards, 44 touchdowns and still remains entrenched on six all-time Aggie passing charts. 

His 413 passing yards against Cal State Northridge in 1982 stood as the school record until current Aggie offensive coordinator Kevin Daft broke it (482 vs. New Haven) in 1997. 

O'Brien was a household name throughout the Division II ranks and was certainly on the draft boards of many NFL teams. Elway went with the first pick to the Baltimore Colts and was followed by Blackledge (Chiefs), Jim Kelly (Bills) and Eason (Patriots) before former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped to the podium, and with a wry smile, announced a name that sent many fans scurrying for information.

In fact, one reporter even called him "Ken Davis" before correcting himself twice and calling him "Ken O'Brien". And then there's that matter of Rozelle calling the school "California-Davis".
Ken O'Brien - AFTER

While not wildly known at draft time, O'Brien did go on and stake out a successful NFL run. He threw for more than 25,000 yards during a 10-year career - all but one year with the Jets - tossed for 128 touchdowns and made it to a pair of Pro Bowls in 1985 and 1991. His 96.2 passer rating led the NFL in 1986.

O'Brien currently lives in Manhattan Beach and enjoys a successful real estate career. He's a frequent visitor to campus and alumni gatherings and remains engaged to the Aggie program.

Eason, by the way, also enjoys a UC Davis connection. His brother, Bo, was a defensive back for the Aggies while O'Brien was quarterback and now travels and performs his acclaimed play "Runt of the Litter".

By the way, who is John Elway? 



Maybe it's just me, but I think any time NFL Films contacts someone, one of the following has to happen:

1) The legendary voice of the late John Facenda needs to come on and say, "Hi, this is John Facenda of NFL Films. Please hold for (insert dubbed name here)."


2) There needs to be the unmistakenable music of "The Power and the Glory" playing underneath the call or as an email attachment. (pause and click the link, please) Memories of Facenda narrating Super Bowl highlights with that song in the background is an indelible part of my growing up.

I'm sure I'd get goosebumps before it was my turn to talk. Then I'd probably stand up and run through a wall ready to sack a quarterback.

But, alas, that's not the way it goes. Instead, I was copied on a non-descript email in December as NFL Films looked to interview one "Kenneth O'Brien." We later sent them a photo as well. Just recently, the company got a hold of us again to approve some footage used in Tuesday's "30 for 30" episode looking back at the famed quarterback class of the 1983 NFL Draft.

Maybe I'll record myself reading the email with "The Power and the Glory" playing underneath.



UC Davis Football has a distinguished history from a lot of different angles. Former head coach Jim Sochor is in the College Football Hall of Fame. The program enjoyed nearly 40 consecutive winning seasons. The list of accomplished college coaches who either got their starts with the Aggies or stopped through for more experience is notable on its own.

But while USC may be known as "Tailback U", when it came to Div. II, the Aggies were definitely "Quarterback U".

Kevin Daft
No less than six UC Davis signal-callers were drafted into the NFL during the Aggies' Div. II era, a product of the program's pro-style offense that featured a potent passing attack.

Mike Moroski (Falcons, 1979), Ken O'Brien (Jets, 1983), Scott Barry (San Francisco, 1985), Jeff Bridewell (St. Louis, 1991) Kevin Daft (Tennessee, 1999) and J.T. O'Sullivan (New Orleans, 2002) each heard their names called on draft day.

Khari Jones (1991-93) staked out a prolific and MVP career in the Canadian Football League while Mark Grieb (1994-96) rewrote Arena Football League recordbooks with his impressive play.

Mike Robles is Assistant Athletics Director, Communications and will be looking for a "Photo courtesy of UC Davis Athletics" in the end credits of the "30 for 30" episode.