Aggies deserved nothing more

Five losses did not stop Gardner-Webb from making the FCS playoffs. The Runnin’ Bulldogs earned an automatic bid by overcoming a four-game losing streak to go 5-0 in the Big South Conference. Eleven conference champions earned automatic bids. Sacramento State earned one by finishing 8-0 in the Big Sky for the second consecutive year.

Five Big Sky teams made the 24-team playoff field. Sacramento State is the No. 2 seed after finishing 11-0 in the regular season for the first time. The Hornets will have a bye in the first round and will host the Davidson-Richmond winner on Dec. 3. Montana State also finished 8-0 in the Big Sky and earned the No. 4 seed with a 10-1 overall record.

Also representing the Big Sky will be Weber State (9-2), Idaho (7-4) and Montana (7-4) after each team was awarded an at-large berth. Weber State and Idaho both finished 6-2 to share third place. Montana got a berth despite finishing sixth in the Big Sky at 4-4.

C.J. Hutton catches a pass for UC Davis with Sacramento State’s Caleb Nelson covering.

Montana’s four victories were against teams with a combined conference record of 7-25. The Grizzlies apparently made a case for a berth with a 31-24 overtime loss at Sacramento State and a 24-21 loss at Weber State. Montana’s last shot for a significant Big Sky victory was at Montana State on Saturday and the Grizzlies lost 55-21.

UC Davis finished ahead of Montana at 5-3 and had one significant victory. The Aggies traveled to Idaho and won 44-26 in a game that was not as close as the final score. Like Montana, UC Davis stood toe to toe with Weber State in a 17-12 loss and lost 27-21 in the Causeway Classic on Saturday after taking Sacramento State down to the wire.

A 44-yard field goal by Kyle Sentkowski stretched Sacramento State’s lead to six points with 43 seconds to play. UC Davis was out of timeouts with 92 yards to go. Miles Hastings completed three consecutive passes to C.J. Hutton for 50 yards to give the Aggies a first down at the Hornets’ 42-yard line as the record crowd of 23,073 went bananas.

The clock stopped long enough for the ball to be placed. Once the clock restarted, UC Davis could have spiked the ball to save enough time for a Hail Mary pass to the end zone, The Aggies instead opted to run a play, but Trent Tompkins could not get out of bounds after catching a pass from Hastings. The clock expired and so did the Aggies’ season.

Rex Connors (4) and Jayce Smalley team up to stop Cameron Skattebo.

That was hardly the first bad decision this season by coach Dan Hawkins and his son Cody, the offensive coordinator. In the second quarter of the 41-24 loss at Montana State, UC Davis had Matteo Perez carry the ball instead of Ulonzo Gilliam on third-and-1 at the Bobcats’ 19-yard line. Perez lost 2 yards and the Aggies settled for a 38-yard field goal by Isaiah Gomez. Montana State answered with a field goal of its own to lead 24-13 at halftime.

Gilliam had 24 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown against the Bobcats, but the Aggies’ all-time leading rusher was on the sideline when UC Davis gave the ball to an untested sophomore rather than a proven senior with so much at stake.

A victory against Weber State would have likely sent UC Davis into the playoffs, but the Aggies paid the price for playing it safe. UC Davis was a yard away from a touchdown on the final play of the first half when Hawkins called for Gomez to try a 18-yard field goal. The kick was deflected and went wide right, leaving the Aggies with a 14-6 deficit.

Gomez set a UC Davis record for most field-goal attempts in a game with five. And they were all in the first half. Gomez made two. At least the Aggies did not have Perez attempt a field goal or ask him to throw a pass instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock.

Perez will return in 2023. Gilliam and Gomez will not. Thanks for coming and drive home safely.

Much more on fourth-and-4

No one would have questioned Troy Taylor had the Sacramento State coach called a running play on fourth-and-4 at Montana’s 30-yard line. Cameron Skatteboo is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and leads the Big Sky Conference in rushing yards with 851, so the sophomore was about as close as Taylor could come to having a sure thing.

Taylor figured the Grizzlies would be expecting Skatteboo to carry the ball. Taylor also anticipated Montana’s defensive backs would jam Sacramento State’s wide receivers to prevent a short pass by quarterback Jake Dunniway from turning into a first down. Taylor made it seem as if Montana would be ready for whatever play he called.

The Grizzlies had no idea what was coming. Taylor called for wide receiver Jared Gipson to run a stutter route on the right side. Gipson accelerated from the line and stutter stepped once he was inside the 25. Montana cornerback Jayden Dawson must have thought Gipson was gearing down to turn back and be in clear view for Dunniway.

Wide receiver Jared Gipson

Dawson bit on the stutter move and Gipson sprinted past him to catch Dunniway’s pass just inside the 5 before going out of bounds. The Grizzlies argued that Gipson had stepped out as he made the catch, but an instant replay review upheld the ruling on the field.

As the play was being reviewed, Gipson watched the replay on the Hornet Stadium scoreboard and it “showed I was clearly out of bounds. I was like ‘Oh no.’ My heart dropped.” His disappointment did not last long as the review upheld his reception for 26 yards.

Gipson was confident the play would work because practice makes perfect – or at least close enough. “We run the play so much that it’s almost like perfection ,” he said. “Well, not perfection. I wouldn’t say perfection. We’re just really good at it.”

The Grizzlies might have prompted Taylor’s call with their aggressive defense. “They bring a lot of pressure and a lot of movement. And they kept bringing it,” Taylor said. “It was a perfect opportunity (for the stutter route) and our guys executed it.”

Quarterback Jake Dunniway

Dunniway has come to think along the same lines as Taylor and was not surprised by the coach’s call even though the senior admitted it was “ballsy. Dunniway added, “(The Grizzlies) were probably thinking we were going to run the ball or throw something short. I thought it might work because they were trying to jam us.”

Asher O’Hara replaced Dunniway on the next play and dashed into the end zone for his 12th rushing touchdown this season to tie the score with 3:39 to play. O’Hara added his 13th in overtime with a 7-yard run as Sacramento State improved to 7-0 with a 31-24 victory.

Students stormed the field last Saturday as midnight approached to celebrate. Dunniway heard the coaches calling for the players to go to the locker room, but he could not break away from all the hugs and pats on the back. ESPN2 televised the game, so a national audience saw how the FCS half of Division I football can be captivating.

Another battle is in store for Sacramento State at 6 p.m. Saturday when Idaho visits Hornet Stadium for a showdown between 4-0 Big Sky teams. The Vandals are 5-2 overall and their two losses have come against FBS teams, Washington State and Indiana.

Quarterback pulls rank at UCD

Ulonzo Gilliam carries more weight at UC Davis than his 189 pounds. His teammates listen intently whenever Gilliam speaks because the senior running back has earned their respect in word and deed. He is not just a team captain on a power trip when it comes to addressing his teammates.

Gilliam and sophomore linebacker Teddye Buchanan were voted team captains before the start of the season. Gilliam is the first three-time captain in the program’s history. To put that distinction in perspective, four former Aggies who played in the NFL – Ken O’Brien, Mike Moroski, Bo Eason and J.T. O’Sullivan – are among the players who were two-time captains.

Miles Hastings

Buchanan and Gilliam are joined by two additional captains whom they pick for each game. There will be just one additional captain in the final four games. Quarterback Miles Hastings will join Gilliam and Buchanan beginning on Saturday when Cal Poly visits Davis.

Coach Dan Hawkins made the announcement at his weekly press conference Monday. Hawkins shared that Gilliam made a point when addressing the team to say he was not picking Hastings as a captain just for the Battle for the Golden Horseshoe. Gilliam added three games because of all Hastings has endured – losing the starting job last year, regaining it this season and proving he can take charge of the offense.

“That’s how strongly (Gilliam) and the rest of the guys feel about it,” Hawkins said. “Every quarterback goes through an up-and-down journey. I always say a quarterback has to walk through the valley of death at some point in his career. (Hastings) never wavered. He’s never batted an eye.”

Hastings opened more than a few eyes in the past two weeks as UC Davis routed Northern Arizona 56-27 at home and Northern Colorado 58-10 in Greeley, Colo. The sophomore completed 39 of 47 passes (83 percent) for 579 yards and five touchdowns in the lopsided victories. And he did not throw an interception in either game. That is certainly worth noting.

Interceptions were a problem in 2021 for Hastings, who was picked off eight times in 215 passing attempts. He threw five interceptions in the final three games, including two in a 56-24 loss at South Dakota State in the FCS playoffs. A season that began with five consecutive victories ended with three losses in a row, leaving the disappointed Aggies with an 8-4 record.

“I didn’t play well last year toward the end. We didn’t finish the season the way we wanted,” said Hastings, who has thrown for 1,840 yards and 13 touchdowns this season. He leads the Big Sky Conference in average passing yards per game at 262.9. He is second in passing yards and completion percentage (68.3).

Eight victories are out of reach this season for the Aggies, who are 3-4 and will likely have to win their final four games to stand any chance of returning to the FCS playoffs. That will be a tall task with two games on the road against ranked teams – No. 14 Idaho on Nov. 12 and No. 2 Sacramento State in the 68th annual Causeway Classic on Nov. 19. Stay tuned.

Hornets unleash Skatteboo

Cameron Skatteboo had yet to be unleashed last October when Sacramento State traveled to Montana and came away with a 28-21 victory. The win was the first for the Hornets in 13 trips to Missoula. The loss was the first at home for the Grizzlies since 2018.

Skatteboo was a sophomore at Rio Linda High School in 2018. He made the varsity team and proved he belonged with the big boys, running for 992 yards and nine touchdowns. That was a preview of coming attractions. Skatteboo was honored as the Sacramento Bee Offensive Player of the Year in 2019 after leading the Knights to the state Division 5A championship by running for 3,550 yards and scoring 42 touchdowns.

Cameron Skatteboo

Rio Linda’s playbook was easy for Skatteboo to comprehend because there were just six running plays out of the Power I formation. Sacramento State’s offense is far more challenging with multiple formations and personnel packages. Hornets head coach Troy Taylor admits to asking more of his running backs than taking a handoff and finding a hole, so Skatteboo was overwhelmed when he first looked at the playbook.

“It was shell shock for sure,” Skatteboo said after practice Tuesday. “I know I’m a smart football player and could learn the playbook. It took a minute to get going. I knew I could get the hang of it. It was just a matter of time for the coaches to trust that I got it.”

Opportunity knocked for Skatteboo last season when junior Elijah Dotson left the program and entered the transfer portal. Skatteboo climbed one rung on the depth chart and playing time followed because Taylor shuffles running backs in and out of the game. Skatteboo saw extensive action for the first time against Northern Arizona last Oct. 23. The freshman’s first run went for 6 yards. His second was an 11-yard burst for a touchdown to give Sacramento State a 30-0 lead en route to a 44-0 victory.

Skatteboo rushed for a team-high 117 yards on 10 carries against the Lumberjacks. After having just two carries for 19 yards in the first five games, Skatteboo ran for 501 yards and six touchdowns on 55 carries in the final six games. He came close to gaining a first down every time he tucked the ball into his arms, averaging 9.12 yards per carry.

“We knew (Skatteboo) was going to be pretty good, but we also knew he had a lot to learn,” Taylor said. “He started getting more and more reps (in practice), so he got comfortable in the offense and got confident. That allowed him to play fast and physical.”

Montana will get its first look at Skatteboo on Saturday night when the Grizzlies invade Hornet Stadium at 8 p.m. ESPN2 picked a great game to televise nationally. Sacramento State is 6-0 for the first time since 1991, ranked No. 2 in the FCS poll for the first time in the program’s history and is the only Division I team (FBS or FCS) to have not trailed at any time in a game this season. Montana is 5-1 and ranked No. 7.

Eastern Washington can give Montana a scouting report of what to expect from Skatteboo, who rushed for a career-high 201 yards and caught a touchdown pass last Saturday in the Hornets’ 52-28 win over the Eagles. Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara split time at quarterback as usual. Dunniway threw for three touchdowns and O’Hara ran for three to give him a team-high 11 rushing scores. Skatteboo is second with five.

Skatteboo has no problem with O’Hara carrying the ball in goal-line situations. And even if he did, he would never say anything. “I’ve never complained, ” he said. “No matter who gets the ball, it’s never been a fight. Of course, I want the ball. I might have thought it myself, but that’s not something you bring to the attention of anybody else. You keep that to yourself and you keep your head down and you play for your tea

UC Davis gets kicked around

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins admitted Monday to asking too much of kicker Isaiah Gomez in Saturday’s 17-12 loss to Weber State. Gomez set a school record for field-goal attempts in a game with five. And all five came in the first half. The senior made two, shanked two and Weber State’s Maxwell Anderson got a hand on the fifth to send it wide right.

Each miss came from 50 yards. It was surprising that Hawkins called for a field goal from that distance because Gomez has never made a field goal longer than 45 yards. And Gomez has been inconsistent this season, missing as many field goals (six) in four games as he did in 12 games last year.

“I really trust (Gomez) a lot,” Hawkins said, “so I probably put him in some bad situations.” Those situations may have been born out of desperation because the offense scored more touchdowns (six) in defeating San Diego 43-13 on Sept. 17 than it has in three losses (five).

UC Davis tight end McCallan Castles is stopped just short of the goal line after catching a pass from Miles Hastings.

His first 50-yard try Saturday was in the first quarter after quarterback Miles Hastings’ 3-yard pass to running back Ulonzo Gilliam on third-and-12. That was after a 1-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Kraft on second down at the Weber State 36-yard line. The Aggies seemed intent on keeping a tight leash on Hastings, who completed 39 of 57 passes with 21 going for 5 or fewer yards.

Gomez bounced back with a 41-yard field goal with 7:47 to play in the first half to leave UC Davis trailing 14-6. His second miss from 50 came four minutes later. The Aggies gave Gomez one more opportunity by forcing the Wildcats to punt with 1:50 to go. Hastings completed seven consecutive passes for 59 yards to give UC Davis a first-and-goal at the Weber State 1. Hastings made it eight in a row with a pass on first down to tight end McCallan Castles, but Castles was tackled short of the goal line.

That left Hawkins with a choice of going for a touchdown or settling for a gimme field goal from 18 yards. To put that in perspective, an extra-point kick is 20 yards. Hawkins opted for a field goal, but Weber State’s Maxwell Anderson came around the left side to deflect the kick and send it wide right.

Hawkins defended his decision to go for three points because “you don’t want to chase points. It was too early to chase points. If we got that field goal, we’d be down by one score coming out of the tunnel (for the second half).”

Weber State’s Maxwell Anderson (3) celebrates with his teammates after deflecting a short field-goal attempt.

Gomez’s right leg got a break in the second half. He was needed for one kickoff after Hastings’ 19-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver C.J. Hutton with 5:33 to go in the third quarter. The Aggies went for a two-point conversion, but Hastings’ pass to wide receiver Lance Babb fell incomplete.

The loss was difficult for Hawkins to accept because he believes his team outplayed Weber State. The statistics bear that out. The Aggies outgained the Wildcats 417-356, ran 21 more plays, had a six-minute edge in time of possession and forced three turnovers without once giving the ball away.

“You look at the stats and you’d think ‘Boy, the Aggies won that game,’ but we didn’t,” Hawkins explained. “Anytime you get three turnovers and you don’t turn it over, you’re probably going to win that game. “

Hawkins stuck out his neck earlier this month when he proclaimed his 2022 team will be the best in history. The Aggies are 1-3 and likely will be 1-4 after playing Montana State in Bozeman on Saturday. Montana State is ranked fourth in the latest FCS poll and has won six in a row against UC Davis.

Saturday’s game will be on ESPNU at 7:15 p.m.

Hornets put faith in kicker

Missing a field goal on the next play of the first half was bad. Sitting in the locker room at halftime and wondering how many of his Sacramento State teammates were thinking he had let them down was far worse. That the miss was a chip shot from 20 yards only added to Kyle Sentkowski’s agony of the foot.

A 20-yard field goal is the same distance as an extra-point kick. Sentkowski did not miss a PAT in 2021, converting 39 for 39 to become the first kicker in program history to be perfect with at least 30 attempts. He laughed when asked if his 20-yard miss should count as a PAT attempt and erase the record.

“It might as well be,” quipped Sentkowski, who arrived at Sacramento State after two seasons at College of the Siskiyous and redshirted in 2019. The Hornets opted not to play in 2020 because of COVID-19.

Sentkowski waited two years to finally get to kick for the Hornets and then made four of five field goals in the first two games. He made three field goals in as many attempts against Northern Iowa in his home debut on Sept. 11. Then came the bus ride to Berkeley as the Hornets tested their luck against Cal.

Kyle Sentkowski

Sacramento State proved equal to the task in the first half, especially after Cal scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. The Hornets trailed 14-6 in the second quarter when an interception by Munchie Filer III gave them a shot in the arm. Sentkowski then shot himself in the foot by shanking a 37-yard field goal.

Cal stretched its lead to 21-6 by going 85 yards in just three plays to score with 4:01 to play in the first half. That left more than enough time for the Hornets to mount a drive and they did just that, going 65 yards in 11 plays as quarterback Jake Dunniway completed four of seven passes for 52 yards. The drive stalled inside Cal’s 10-yard line, but settling for three points was still a bone for an underdog.

Sentkowski buried it, however, when he missed from 20 yards out. He probably would have rather crawled under a rock than join his teammates in the locker room at halftime, but that is when he learned where he stood with the Hornets. His teammates had his back after he cost them six points.

“The offense is doing its job and getting us down there,” Sentkowski said Tuesday as the Hornets prepared for Saturday’s opener against Utah Tech at 7:30 p.m. “And to be so close, you almost feel like you wasted their opportunity. Twenty- and 30-yarders are chip shots. They should be easy in your sleep.”

Those misses could have haunted Sentkowski to the extent of worrying if head coach Troy Taylor would go with another kicker. A 2-yard touchdown run by Quarterback Asher O’Hara in the third quarter gave Sentkowski an opportunity to regain his confidence with a simple PAT. The Hornets were going to go for a two-point conversion, but a holding penalty left Sentkowski with a 31-yard extra point.

His kick split the uprights. So did his 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Sacramento State scored a meaningless touchdown with 1:28 to play to make Cal’s 42-30 victory appear closer than it was.

“(Taylor) sent me out for a 43-yarder and that was pretty encouraging,” said Sentkowski, who attended Blaine High School in Washington. “We needed a lot of points, but he sent me out there to get three. For me that was like Taylor saying, ‘Hey, we trust you.’”

Sentkowski missed just one field goal in the remaining nine games and finished the season 21 of 25. He set school records for most field goals and points (102) in a season. He was a first-team selection to the All-Big West Conference team.

Taylor admits he is not a “kicking expert,” but he realizes how those misses could have derailed Sentkowski. “You miss two in a row and it’s like ‘Whats going on here?’” Taylor said. “He’s a pretty even keel kid. That (20-yarder) was the last kick he missed for quite a whole. He got on a string. He’s special.”

Wood senior cast as starter

Mason Sayre is not to be touched during football practice at Will C. Wood High School. The senior quarterback wears a red vest over his jersey to remind his teammates that he is off limits. And if the vest is not enough of a deterrent, the black cast on his left forearm will surely do the trick.

All of that does not prevent Sayre from initiating contact. He did just that last Friday on one play during an intrasquad scrimmage. Sayre was flushed from the pocket, scrambled to his right and decided to make a run for it. With a defensive back pinning him to the sideline, Sayre could have easily stayed out of harm’s way by simply stepping out of bounds.

Sayre instead lowered his shoulder and delivered as much of a hit on that defensive back as his 6-foot, 160-pound body could generate. It would be safe to say Sayre will not earn his keep this season by trying to plow for three yards and a cloud of synthetic turf. He will be better off trying to steer clear of defensive players instead of testing his luck against them.

If Sayre gets the itch, however, there is a good chance he will scratch it. “Getting hit is not my favorite thing, but it is fun to hit someone,” he said. “They don’t allow quarterbacks to hit, but let me get in on some of the fun.”

Fun became a habit for Sayre last spring with Wood’s baseball team. The shortstop led the Wildcats in batting average (.392), hits (31) and runs scored (18). Sayre also plays for the Admirals Baseball Club. The cast is a souvenir from an Admirals game during which he tagged a runner at second base and his left thumb became acquainted with the runner’s helmet.

The cast will come off Friday, just in time for Wood’s scrimmage at El Camino on Saturday. The Wildcats will kick off the season Aug. 19 at home against Pioneer of Woodland. Wood has just four home games this season. The other three are Sept. 9 against Liberty of Brentwood, Oct. 7 against Armijo and Oct. 15 against defending state Division 3A champion Vanden.

Baseball may be Sayre’s future, but football is the present. More and more high school athletes are being sold on the idea that putting all their eggs in one sport is the golden ticket to college. Sayre does not buy that. Walking away from football never entered his mind, much less crossed it.

“I love playing football with my friends. That’s what keeps me going,” Sayre said. “It’s fun to represent my school and play under the Friday night lights.”

His first opportunity to take the stage as Wood’s starting quarterback will come Aug. 19 at Wildcat Stadium. He will be just fine without the red vest and black cast.

Remarkable season for Rams

Shawna and Brad Humphries waited with open arms Feb. 25 for their daughter Brianna to emerge from the locker room at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. Brianna had just led Dixon High School’s girls basketball team to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV championship. Her proud parents were eager to embrace the 6-foot-1 senior for a once-in-a-lifetime celebration.

Brianna blew right past her parents, however, just as she did with any Calaveras player who dared to get in her way during the Rams’ 48-42 victory. Her first celebratory hug other than with a teammate or coach was reserved for her biggest fan and tiniest relative. Brianna hoisted her 6-year-old cousin, Sebastian Fernandez, into her arms in much the same manner she had lifted her teammates with 27 points and 16 rebounds.

According to Brianna, her bond with Sebastian stems from each being the only child in their respective families. It also might be because their birthdays are one day apart and make for a perfect time to have a family get-together. And when Sebastian began to play baseball, Brianna shared the fundamentals she learned in softball.

“I don’t have many cousins living near me,” Brianna said. “(Sebastian) has always been there for me. It’s always been me and him. We’re two peas in a pod.”

Sebastian is just old enough to remember when Brianna was down and out in her junior year after tearing the meniscus in her right knee. She sustained the injury with her AAU team, which kept her active when the 2020-21 high school basketball season was postponed to late April and then shortened to just 10 Golden Empire League games.

Such a setback was nothing new for Brianna even though she said the pain was far worse than when she tore two ligaments and the meniscus in the same knee as a freshman. The brace she now wears on her right knee suggests she is not 100 percent, but anyone fortunate enough to have watched Brianna during the section playoffs will say that nothing appears to be wrong with her.

Her reconstructed knee is why Brianna has decided to play softball in college at San Diego Christian instead of opting for basketball or water polo. She received three scholarship offers for softball, but two came from small colleges in the Midwest and she would rather stay closer to home. UC Davis offered her a scholarship for water polo, but Brianna ranks water polo as her No. 3 sport even though she was the starting goalie for the Rams last November when Dixon won the section Division III championship.

Brianna is not breaking up with basketball because no college showed enough interest in her to offer a scholarship. The words of the surgeon who repaired her knee are still ringing in her ears. He told her matter of factly that her knee would not withstand four years of college basketball. She also remembers the toll of playing as many as five AAU games in a weekend took on her knee last year and likely led to her meniscus tearing for a second time.

Her left knee was an issue in the section championship game. Brianna fell in the third quarter and scraped her knee on the hardwood. Not only did she have to leave the game so her knee could be bandaged, but she also made mistake of touching the scrap and then wiping her hand on her shorts. It took some time for those in charge at Golden 1 Center to find a person with enough medical merit to patch her knee and clean the stain on her shorts.

“They were taking like forever. It was a whole fiasco,” said Brianna, who sprinted to the scorers table once her knee was bandaged and returned to the court at the next break in the action. There was just one slight problem, however. Brianna was in such a hurry to re-enter the game that she did not think of checking with head coach Mike Gilliard as she sprinted by him to find out which teammate she would be replacing.

There are plenty of folks in Dixon who will say Brianna is irreplaceable, but she does not act as if she is. She does not clamor for attention even though she was the center of it after Dixon defeated Calaveras. As her teammates made their way to the press conference room, Brianna was stopped on the court by the Sac-Hi Sports camera crew for an interview. Once she rejoined the team, reporters wasted no time in asking her about everything from her upbringing and parents (Brad played football at Vacaville High and Shawna was a swimmer at Dixon) to her knee injuries and college aspirations. She did not expect or want to be thrust into the spotlight.

“I didn’t want it to be all about me. It was a team effort,” Brianna said. “We knew from the beginning (of the season) that we were aiming for something much higher than league. We were shooting for state. That was our whole goal. We all know we can do it.”

It was not meant to be for the Rams, however. Dixon defeated Chico in the first round of the Northern California Division III playoffs for its 19th consecutive victory, but the Rams were no match against Oakland Tech in a 78-38 rout. At least Humphries and her teammates can say they lost to the best Division III girls team in the state after Oakland Tech claimed the championship with a 39-33 victory over La Salle.

Vanden QB saves best for last

Tre Dimes would like to apologize to Vanden High School football fans for taking so long to get his act together Saturday night. Adrenaline and nerves got the best of the quarterback through the first three quarters of the state Division 3-AA championship game. And Aquinas did not do the junior any favors by flushing him out of the pocket and forcing him to throw on the run.

His yellow mouthpiece with black fangs absorbed the brunt of Dimes’ frustration. He chewed on it like a cow chomping on cud. The Vikings trailed 13-0 entering the fourth quarter after averaging 58 points in four playoff games. Dimes had thrown four or more touchdown passes in six consecutive games.

Vanden did not need 58 points or four touchdown passes from Dimes to win its first state championship. All the Vikings had to do was keep the faith in their quarterback because he has rarely let them down. Dimes regained his mojo in the final seven minutes to lead Vanden to a thrilling 14-13 victory.

“He’s our No. 1 on offense,” guard Blake Waldrop said of Dimes. “He gets us going.”

Vacaville has been the only team to hold Vanden to fewer than 20 points this season in posting a 35-17 victory Oct. 15 that propelled the Bulldogs to the Monticello Empire League title. Once that crown slipped through the Vikings’ fingers, they set their sights on bringing home the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title. They got it by mauling Merced 49-21 in Stockton and then rolled to a 56-21 rout at Windsor in the Northern California Regional.

Nothing was that easy against Aquinas.

Time was running out on the Vikings when Dimes broke the goose egg by lofting a 13-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jamai East with 6:31 to play. Aquinas was forced to punt on its ensuing possession after Vanden linebacker Orion Null broke into the backfield to take down Jusyis Solis on third-and-7.

“The pressure was on,” Null said as he was mobbed by his family on the field after the game. “I had to do my job and make a play.” Not only did his play force Aquinas to relinquish the ball, but it also allowed Vanden to avoid using its last two timeouts on defense to save precious seconds for the offense.

East’s first touchdown came on a fade pattern to the right corner of the end zone. His second with 1:08 to play epitomized his connection with Dimes. East drove cornerback Cesar Fernandez into the end zone, stopped on a dime as Fernandez was still backpedaling and broke left. Dimes rolled to his right, planted his back foot and fired a strike to East to tie the score.

Diego Nunez-Smith followed with the biggest extra-point kick in the history of high school extra-point kicks to put Vanden ahead. East sealed the deal for the Vikings with an interception. And by the way, he also blocked the Falcons’ extra-point attempt after their second touchdown in the third quarter.

Daniel Hughes’ helmet

Dimes is at his best when he can set his feet and unleash his right arm. The Falcons made every effort to not let that happen during the first 36 minutes by putting pressure right in Dimes’ face. Dimes showed signs of panic by not keeping his eyes on his receivers and instead looking to see what trouble was coming his way. Dimes was sacked six times in the first three quarters and bounced a few passes as if he was playing point guard in basketball.

Offensive coordinator Joel “Blue” Isaac had to find a way to snap Dimes out of his funk, so he took the quarterback aside on the sideline for a face-to-face conversation. Had Isaac been chewing gum, Dimes would have known the flavor.

“I told him there’s 11 guys on the field. It’s not all on your shoulders,” Isaac said. “I knew he knew it, but I just reiterated it.”

A 13-0 deficit in a state championship game is nothing compared to the loss the Vikings suffered last April when junior Daniel Hughes died after a shooting. The Vikings will never forget how hard Hughes worked and how he demanded everyone else wearing a jersey to do the same. There was no quit in Hughes, so the Vikings refuse to surrender even when it appears all is lost.

“Daniel never stopped fighting no matter what the score was,” Dimes said. “We had to fight through this game. He would be so proud of us.”

That he is.

Plenty on line in Causeway

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Miles Hastings will start at quarterback for UC Davis in the Causeway Classic.

Much more than bragging rights will be at stake Saturday when UC Davis hosts Sacramento State in the 67th edition of the Causeway Classic. This will be the third consecutive meeting of the rivals with a piece of the Big Sky Conference championship on the line. The Aggies shared the title in 2018, the Hornets did the same two years ago and Sacramento State can claim the crown outright Saturday with a victory and a Montana State loss to Montana.

Montana State kicks off two hours before the Causeway Classic beings at 1 p.m., so the Hornets should know by halftime if they have a chance to have the title all to themselves. The Causeway Classic is hardly a road game for the visiting team, but Sacramento State has not lost a Big Sky game away from Hornet Stadium since Troy Taylor signed a seven-year contract to become the Hornets coach in 2019. The Hornets are 7-0 on the Big Sky road with one of their victories just so happening to come at Montana State in 2019

Sacramento State is riding a seven-game winning streak, its longest in 55 years, with all of those victories coming against Big Sky opponents. The Hornets dropped two of their three nonconference games, including a 42-30 loss at Cal on Sept. 18. Sacramento State also lost to Northern Iowa, which at the time was ranked 15th in the FCS Top 25. The Panthers fell out of the rankings this week but could be one of 13 teams to receive at-large berths to the FCS playoffs. The 24-team bracket will be announced at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

UC Davis (5-2 Big Sky, 8-2 overall) fell four spots to No. 10 in the rankings after losing 38-20 to Eastern Washington last Saturday. A Top 10 spot should be enough to get the Aggies an at-large berth into the playoffs regardles of Saturday’s outcome. Sacramento State (7-0, 8-2) is No. 11 and will be the Big Sky’s automatic qualifier with a victory and a Montana State loss. If both the Hornets and Bobcats lose, Sacramento State will receive the automatic bid by virtue of its 28-21 victory Oct. 16 at Montana, which at the time was ranked No. 5. The Grizzlies are currently No. 7, two spots below Eastern Washington.

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Eric Barriere

The Big Sky should have five teams in the playoffs and there is a good chance two of them will meet at some point. That happened in 2019 with Weber State defeating Montana in the quarterfinals. Sacramento State was seeded fourth two years ago, drew a first-round bye and then lost to Austin Peay. UC Davis and Eastern Washington met in the second round in 2018, four weeks after the Aggies lost 59-20 to the Eagles on Nov. 10 in Cheney. UC Davis returned to Cheney for the playoff rematch and lost 34-29 when Eastern Washington’s Sam McPherson scored on a 35-yard run with 26 seconds to play.

Eastern Washington has continued to have its way with UC Davis. Last Saturday’s victory was the Eagles’ 10th in as many meetings with the Aggies. Quarterback Eric Barriere has personally seen to maintaining the Eagles’ superiority. In four games against UC Davis, Barriere has thrown for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns. The redshirt senior was at it again last Saturday in Davis by throwing for 411 yards and three touchdowns without being sacked. That was a standard performance for Barriere, who passed for 600 yards and seven touchdowns in the Eagles’ 71-21 victory over Idaho on Oct. 16.

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins tipped his figurative cap to Barriere last Saturday. “He’s a generational talent. He could play at any level and play well,” Hawkins said. “As I told our team and him, I have had the fortune or misfortune of playing against a number of Heisman Trophy winners and (Heisman) finalists. (Barriere is) as dominant a player as anyone I’ve played against. You’re not going to shut him down. You just try to limit what he can do.”

Wrestling with Sacramento State’s tag team of quarterbacks should prove much easier for UC Davis than trying to take down Barriere. Taylor plays to the respective strengths of Jake Dunniway (2,051 yards passing and 11 touchdowns) and Asher O’Hara (a team-high 593 yards rushing and eight touchdowns).

Hawkins has done the same at UC Davis with redshirt freshmen Miles Hastings (920 yards passing and six touchdowns) and Trent Tompkins (420 yards rushing and six touchdowns) taking turns. Hunter Rodrigues started the first four games this season after starting all five games last spring. The junior has not been the same since sustaining a concussion at Weber State on Sept. 25. He missed the Idaho game and was benched after tossing two interceptions in the first half of a 27-17 loss at Idaho State on Oct. 9.

Two more interceptions against Northern Colorado on Oct. 16 convinced Hawkins to go with Hastings, who has started the past three games. Hawkins has not lost faith in Rodrigues even thought Rodrigues has lost the starting job. “I think for a variety of reasons he was pressing,” Hawkins said. “I felt bad because it had to be hard for him. But as my dad told me a long time ago, life is not fair and either is football. Humility before honor – I get it.”