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.

Success at last for Sac State

The Hornets are in good hands when wide receiver Pierre Williams has the ball.

Three victories in 2019 were enough to convince Pierre Williams that Sacramento State made the right decision in hiring Troy Taylor. The wide receiver was a redshirt freshman in 2018 when the Hornets finished 0-7 in the Big Sky Conference and 2-8 overall. A 3-2 start in 2019 made Williams a believer in his new head coach and a new direction.

Williams knew nothing about Taylor other than his father mentioning that Taylor had been successful at Folsom High School. The proof for Williams would have to come in what Taylor could do with the Hornets. Victories against Southern Oregon, Northern Colorado and Eastern Washington ensured Sacramento State would not finish 2-8 again.

Even more meaningful for Williams was the Hornets’ newfound perseverance in close losses against two FBS teams, Arizona State and Fresno State. The Hornets trailed 9-0 after three quarters against the Sun Devils in a 19-7 loss. Sacramento trailed 14-12 at halftime in a 34-20 loss to Fresno State. Williams was buying what Taylor was selling.

“It was just a different feeling,” Williams said Wednesday after practice in Hornet Stadium, where UC Davis will come calling on Saturday for the 68th Causeway Classic. “I just knew in 2019 that once we won more than two games that we were going to be OK.”

Pierre Williams

Williams would rather not be reminded these days about 2018. A season that had gone so wrong ended on the worst possible note with a 56-13 loss to UC Davis at the University of Nevada. At least the Hornets were spared from being humiliated at home because the Causeway Classic was moved to escape the wildfire smoke.

Compounding the agony of defeat for the Hornets was having to watch the Aggies celebrate on the field. The victory earned UC Davis a share of the Big Sky championship and its first ticket to the FCS playoffs. Sacramento State ended the season with a seven-game losing streak that resulted in head coach Jody Sears losing his job.

The only solace for Williams was realizing he would have three years to settle the score with UC Davis. “I was close to a lot of the seniors and it was kind of sad to see them crying and upset because it was their last game of ever playing football,” Williams recalled. “I just didn’t want to go through another season like that – not being on top.”

Sacramento State has been nowhere else since Taylor arrived. The Hornets shared the Big Sky title with Weber State in 2019 as both teams finished 7-1. Sacramento State claimed it outright last year by going 8-0 with the cherry on top being a 27-7 victory at UC Davis.

At stake for the Hornets on Saturday will be another perfect finish in the Big Sky, an 11-0 regular season and a top seed in the FCS playoffs. The 24-team playoff field will be announced at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU as the dust is settling from the Causeway Classic.

Williams is as healthy as he has been in three years and proved it last Friday night at Portland State. The senior set season highs for receptions (seven) and receiving yards (136). He scored his fifth and sixth touchdowns of the season in Sacramento State’s 45-17 victory.

A torn knee ligament prevented Williams from joining his teammates to celebrate after the 2019 Causeway Classic. Ankle surgery last March forced Williams to miss spring workouts and he was kept out of contract drills when training camp began in August. He began to wonder if he would ever get back to what he once was and what he could be.

“Sometimes I get in my own head. I hadn’t been in a helmet and going live for so long,” said Williams, who caught just two passes for 16 yards against Utah Tech in the season opener Sept. 3. His performance against Portland State “reminded me of who I am.”

In case UC Davis needs a reminder, Williams will provide a refresher course.

It’s now or never for Gilliam

UC Davis football fans must surely remember Ethan Hicks. Who can forget his two carries for 28 yards and a touchdown in the Aggies’ 56-13 victory over Sacramento State in the 2018 Causeway Classic? The game was shifted from UC Davis to the University of Nevada because of smoky skies, but the Aggies still managed to feel right at home.

Hicks’ performance was a total surprise since the senior had more tackles (20) on special teams than rushing attempts (five) in four seasons. Hicks was for once a contributor on offense. Head coach Dan Hawkins prefers to think of all of his players as contributors instead of designating those who are starters and those who do not play much.

UC Davis running back Ulonzo Gilliam

The 43-point victory was the Aggies’ largest against the Hornets since 1982, when UC Davis won 51-6 on its way to finishing 12-1. Hawkins played fullback and Ken O’Brien starred at quarterback as UC Davis won the Northern California Athletic Conference championship for the 12th consecutive year. The Aggies were unbeaten until losing to Southwest Texas State in the Division II championship game.

That was then. Hawkins has not been as fortunate since 2018 against Sacramento State. The Hornets have turned the tide against the Aggies and the entire Big Sky Conference since Troy Taylor became Sacramento State’s head coach. The Hornets shared the Big Sky title with Weber State in 2019 and won it outright last season by going 8-0.

Sacramento State has not lost a Big Sky game on the road with Taylor at the helm. The last conference loss away from Hornet Stadium was in 2018 against UC Davis in Reno. That was the last game for Hornets coach Jody Sears after going 20-35 in five years. Sacramento State lured Taylor away from Utah by offering him a seven-year contract

The Hornets beat the Aggies 27-17 in 2019 by shutting out UC Davis in the second half. Sacramento State won 27-7 last season by holding UC Davis scoreless in the first three quarters. The Aggies would have hosted the Hornets in 2020, but COVID-19 led to the season being reduced to five spring games in 2021. Sacramento State opted to sit out.

Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor

Taylor is an offensive wizard, but defense was the difference for Sacramento State in those two victories. UC Davis managed just 61 rushing yards in 2019 and 73 last Nov. 20. Ulonzo Gilliam is the Aggies’ all-time leading rusher and gained 138 yards against the Hornets in 2018. Gilliam had more yards receiving (62) than rushing (61) against Sacramento State in 2019. The same was true last year as Gilliam was held to 17 yards on eight carries and caught eight passes for 58.

Gilliam has 43 rushing touchdowns in his career, but he has not reached the end zone in three games against the Hornets. He had three touchdown runs Saturday in the Aggies’ 46-26 victory at Idaho, setting career highs for carries (30) and rushing yards (164). Gilliam is the Big Sky’s second-leading rusher in 2022 with 1,132 yards.

Sacramento State’s Cameron Skattebo is the leader with 1,154 yards on 33 fewer carries than Gilliam. Skattebo played in his first Causeway Classic as a true freshman last November and rushed for 69 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown dash. The two talented backs will meet again Saturday when Sacramento State (10-0, 7-0 Big Sky) hosts UC Davis (6-4, 5-2) in what could be Gilliam’s swan song with the Aggies.

UC Davis has to win to have any shot at being among the 24 teams in the FCS playoffs. The field will be announced on Nov. 20. As many as five Big Sky teams – Sacramento State, Montana State, Weber State, Idaho and Montana – could make it since all five are ranked in the latest FCS Coaches Poll. UC Davis made it six this week when it broke into the poll at No. 24.

The Aggies will need much more than 17 yards on the ground from Gilliam to stand any chance.

Dean puts spin on Hornets’ win

Patrick Dean was a dead man walking even though he was running as fast as he could. Weber State wide receiver Jacob Sharp had a step on the Sacramento State cornerback and Bronson Barron’s pass was on the money. Dean’s crime was biting on Sharp’s inside move, allowing Sharp to go free.

Dean was guilty of being deceived by Sharp, who went from making an inside move to turning outside and running away. Dean counted on his speed to catch Sharp. After all, Dean competed in track at Palomares High School in Pomona and had a personal best of 10.71 seconds in the 100-meter dash.

Patrick Dean (2) thwarted a Weber State scoring opportunity with an interception.

“I know I’m fast, so 99 percent of the time I can catch up,” Dean explained Wednesday as the Hornets prepared for Friday’s game at Portland State. Sacramento State is rolling at 6-0 in the Big Sky and 9-0 overall after a 33-30 victory in Ogden, Utah. Portland State is 3-3 and 4-5. The Vikings were no match for Weber State on Oct. 15 in a 42-7 loss at home.

Barron completed 21 of 31 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns against Portland State. He was not as efficient against Sacramento State, completing 15 of 38 passes for 154 yards and two scores. His best throw of the day came in the third quarter with Sharp, a graduate of Bethel High in Vallejo, going against Dean.

Weber State trailed 23-14 and faced third-and-10 at its own 19-yard line with six minutes to go in the quarter. Barron took the snap with the intent of getting more than a first down for the Wildcats. Barron maneuvered in the pocket as he kept his eyes locked on Sharp and let the ball fly.

Sharp had an opportunity to redeem himself after a 5-yard pass on first down went through his hands and off his chest. Barron’s third-down heave traveled 50 yards and reached Sharp at the Sacramento State 36. The ball went off Sharp’s hands, however, and stuck in Dean’s right elbow.

Dean managed to keep the ball tucked away as he tumbled over Sharp, landed on his head and spun on it as if he were breakdancing. “I didn’t know I had the ball until I got to the ground,” he said. “I don’t know why I was spinning. I was in kind of an awkward position. I was just trying to get up.”

His interception kept momentum on Sacramento State’s side and the Hornets made the most of the turnover. Sacramento State drove 75 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown to extend its lead to 30-14. The drive drained nearly six minutes off the clock and culminated on the first play of the fourth quarter when quarterback Asher O’Hara scored on a 1-yard run.

O’Hara can thank Dean for his second rushing touchdown of the game and his 16th this season. O’Hara and Montana State’s Sean Chambers share the Big Sky lead in rushing touchdowns. They are tied for second in the FCS behind North Alabama’s ShunDerrick Powell with 17.

There is no statistic for an assist in college football, but O’Hara would credit Dean with one after Dean picked the perfect time to get his first interception in two seasons with the Hornets and then putting his own spin on it.

More expected of Aggies coach

Four convincing victories in the past four weeks have done nothing more for UC Davis than prove the Aggies can have their way with the also-rans in the Big Sky Conference. More is expected of a team that coach Dan Hawkins predicted would be the best in the program’s history. Then again, maybe more should be expected of Hawkins.

UC Davis alumni cheered when Hawkins returned to his alma mater in 2017. The cheers became much louder in 2018 when the Aggies went 10-3, shared the Big Sky championship and advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time. That seems much longer than four years ago. COVID-19 deserves most of the blame, but Hawkins is by no means innocent.

Let’s not forget that Hawkins won in 2018 with players recruited by Ron Gould, who is now the running backs coach at Stanford. Gould was 12-33 in four seasons with the Aggies with his only saving grace being three victories in four tries against Sacramento State.

Dan Hawkins

Erase the 2018 season and Hawkins’ record is 26-23. He has guided the Aggies to winning records in just two of his first five years at the helm and that includes a 3-2 record in the spring of 2021. And let’s remember that Sacramento State opted not to play in that makeshift spring season. Hawkins is 0-2 against Troy Taylor and the Hornets.

That will surely become 0-3 in two weeks when the Aggies visit Hornet Stadium for the 68th edition of the Causeway Classic. The Hornets have not won three straight against their rivals since winning five in a row from 1988 to 1991. It will be a must win game for the Aggies if they want to stand any chance of advancing the FCS playoffs for the third time since 2018.

And that is only if UC Davis can come out with a victory on Saturday at Idaho. The Vandals are ranked No. 25 in the FCS Coaches Poll three weeks after knocking off No. 3 Montana 30-23 in Missoula. The coaches made it clear how they feel about the Aggies’ four-game winning streak against cupcakes. None of them voted for UC Davis.

Idaho can hang its hat on upsetting Montana and losing by just three points to No. 3 Sacramento State on the road Oct. 29. UC Davis does not have one victory worthy of comparison. Narrow losses at No. 1 South Dakota State (24-22) and at home to No. 6 Weber State (17-12) are noteworthy, but there are no brownie points for falling short.

Seventeen of Hawkins’ 36 wins have come against Cal Poly, Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Northern Colorado and Portland State. Those teams are a combined 7-23 in the Big Sky this season. Four wins were against the University of San Diego. Cal Poly is 0-6 in the Big Sky and 1-8 overall this season with that one victory coming against San Diego.

At least a few of those victories had to be taken into account when Hawkins got a six-year contract extension after last season. Cal Poly, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado can look forward to more losses. And UC Davis fans can look forward to five more years of the Aggies being just good enough to finish in the middle of the pack.

That will likely be the Aggies’ fate this season. If this is the best team in Aggies history, maybe Hawkins should be history. What began as a feel good story when Hawkins returned has become a tale of mediocrity. And this is the worst time for UC Davis to be stuck in neutral with Taylor pushing the pedal to the metal at Sacramento State.

UC Davis raised the bar in 2018, but it now appears to be out of reach. Hawkins would have to climb on Taylor’s shoulders to stand any chance of coming close. At least he has five more years to try.

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.

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

Ex-Viking now inflicting pain

Armon Bailey (30) relied on his teammates for support as he battled injuries.

Most of Armon Bailey’s teammates bolted to the locker room once practice ended Tuesday at Sacramento State. Bailey remained on the field for extra work as if the senior was a freshman or sophomore trying to impress the coaches in hopes of earning playing time. Bailey starts at inside linebacker for the Hornets, so his playing time is a given.

Northern Colorado will see plenty of Bailey on Saturday when the Bears pay a visit to Sacramento to battle the Hornets at 6 p.m. The Bears may be in for a long night because they are 2-3 and have allowed an average of 44 points in the three losses. The Hornets are 4-0 and ranked fifth in the latest FCS poll. They are averaging 45 points a game.

Bailey does not take any game for granted. The Vanden High graduate has come too far and endured too much to think he has got it made. Injuries forced Bailey to miss four games in 2019 and nine last season. The Hornets opted not to play in the spring of 2021 when COVID-19 led to the 2020 season being rescheduled and reduced to five spring games.

Spending a few minutes after practice to sharpen his skills is nothing compared with all the Saturdays he spent in street clothes on the sideline. Bailey is majoring in criminal justice, but he has already earned a degree in perseverance. It would have been so easy to toss in his doo rag and limp away with little to show for his college career.

Defensive coordinator Andy Thompson never lost faith in senior Armon Bailey.

Defensive coordinator Andy Thompson never lost faith in Bailey because Bailey never gave Thompson a reason to do so. Bailey attended all team meetings and studied film with his teammates even when he was a bystander at practice and games.

“You have to keep yourself engaged with the team,” said Thompson, who coaches the linebackers. “When you’re connected with the team, when you know your coaches and teammates care about you, you can get through the tough times. (Bailey’s) injuries were setbacks. They were bumps in the road and he had to overcome them.”

The support of his teammates was all Bailey needed to push through his injuries in hopes of rejoining them on the field one day. Injured players are easy to dismiss when they have nothing to contribute, but Bailey’s teammates never turned their backs on him.

“I had dark days, but my teammates were always there to pull me out of it,” Bailey said. “I tried to stay with my teammates as much as possible. I tried to stay inside the game.”

His days are much brighter this season. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles with 25 after having a total of 16 in victories over Colorado State and Cal Poly the past two weeks. In each of those weeks, he was named the Defensive Player of the Week in the Big Sky Conference. Bailey is just the third defensive player in school history to earn the award twice in a season. Anybody want to bet he will be the first to do it three times?

The awards are a testament to Bailey’s commitment to the Hornets. He strived to come back as much for his teammates and coaches as he did for himself. “That speaks to his character,” Thompson explained. “It’s easy to coach kids who work real hard and are unbelievable people off the field. Armon is an unbelievable kid.”

Bailey believed in himself even in the darkest times. So did Thompson. “He never gave up on me,” Bailey said. “I never had a doubt that I was going to make it back.”

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.”

Hornets, Aggies earn honors

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins had much more on his mind Tuesday than trying to find out how many of his Aggies were selected to the All-Big Sky Conference team. The Aggies are taking a crash course on South Dakota State in preparation for facing the Jackrabbits in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday in Brookings, S.D. Even after Hawkins learned 12 players were honored, he did not jump out of his seat at his weekly press conference and celebrate.

“For every head coach who goes through the all-conference selection committee, it’s unbelievable,” Hawkins said. “There’s a lot of bartering that goes on and a lot of arguing. Life’s not fair, football’s not fair and in many cases all-conference teams are not fair. I’ve been doing this a long time and all-conference teams are always a head-scratcher. And they’ll probably continue to be.”

Josiah Erickson (44)

Three UC Davis players were named to the first team – guard Jake Parks, cornerback Brandon Perryman and running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. Big Sky champion Sacramento State had six first-team selections – wide receiver Pierre Williams, tight end Marshel Martin, center Thomas Parker, defensive end Josiah Erickson, kicker Kyle Sentkowski and all-purpose player Asher O’Hara.

Five Sacramento State players were second-team selections – offensive tackle Kooper Richardson, guard Brandon Weldon, outside linebacker Marte Mapu, inside linebacker Marcus Hawkins and cornerback Munchie Filer III. Richardson played three seasons at UC Davis and came to Sacramento State as a graduate transfer to play for his father Kris and with his brother Kaden.

UC Davis swept the second-team selections picks for special teams with punter Dan Whelan, kicker Isaiah Gomez, kick returner Lan Larison, punt returner Isaiah Thomas and all-purpose player Trent Tompkins,. Other second-team picks for the Aggies were tight end McCallan Castles, center Connor Pettek, defensive tackle Bryce Rodgers and safety Jaylin White. Sacramento State had five third-team selections – quarterback Jake Dunniway, running back Cameron Skattebo, cornerback Malik Jeter and punter Sam Clark. Defensive tackle Jett Stanley was honorable mention.

The Hornets are the No. 4 seed in the FCS playoffs and await the winner of the UC Davis-South Dakota State game in the second round on Dec. 4 at Hornet Stadium. UC Davis would welcome another shot at Sacramento State after the Hornets rolled to a 27-7 rout in the 67th annual Causeway Classic. Sacramento State has won the past two Causeway clashes and would likely be riding a three-game winning streak against UC Davis had the Hornets played last spring.