Sacramento State and UC Davis had 33 reasons to give thanks Wednesday when the All-Big Sky Conference team was announced. The Hornets set a school record with 18 players honored, which was fitting given that Sacramento State was 8-0 in the Big Sky and will take an 11-0 record into the FCS playoffs as the No. 2 seed. The Aggies had 15 players selected after a 6-5 season that fell short of the postseason and expectations.
Sacramento State earned two of the top four honors with running back Cameron Skattebo and linebacker Marte Mapu being named the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively. This was the first time that one team swept the awards since 2012. Troy Taylor shared the Coach of the Year award with Brett Vigen of Montana State, which was also 8-0 in the Big Sky and is the No. 4 seed in the playoffs with a 10-1 record. Taylor was lauded for the third time in as many seasons with the Hornets.
Linebacker Armon Bailey joined Mapu on the first-team defense. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles (78) and sacks (six), a testament to the Vanden High graduate’s perseverance after missing nine games in 2021 and five in 2019 with injuries. Sacramento State did not play in the spring of 2021 after COVID-19 forced the 2020 season to be postponed.
Other first-team selections for the Hornets were wide receiver Pierre Williams, tight end Marshel Martin, guards Jackson Slater and Brandon Weldon, kicker Kyle Sentkowski and Asher O’Hara as the all-purpose player.
UC Davis had six players selected to the first-team – quarterback Miles Hastings, running back Ulonzo Gilliam, tackle Nick Amoah, defensive end Zach Kennedy, safety Rex Connors and special teamer Lan Larison. Hastings led the conference in passing yards (3,048) and completion percentage (69.8) in his first season as the full-time starter. The sophomore threw six interceptions in 367 passing attempts this season after being picked off eight times in 215 attempts last season, when he started five games.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).”
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.
Dan Hawkins has no patience for quarterbacks who are careless with the football. His son can attest to that. Cody was the starting quarterback at Colorado in 2009 when he was benched by his father are throwing two interceptions in a 38-14 loss to Texas. Those turnovers contributed to the Longhorns outscoring the Buffaloes 35-0 in the second half.
Quarterback Miles Hastings has tested Hawkins’ patience at UC Davis. Hawkins had it easy in his first three seasons after returning to coach at his alma mater. His return coincided with quarterback Jake Maier’s transfer from Long Beach City College. Maier passed for a school-record 11,163 yards and 88 touchdowns in three seasons with the Aggies. He was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 after leading UC Davis to a share of the conference championship and its first FCS playoff berth.
Maier’s departure after the 2019 season left the Aggies in search of a new leader behind center. The search has continued into 2022 and through two weeks of spring practice. Hawkins and his son, who is the Aggies offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, will get their last look at the six quarterback candidates in Saturday’s scrimmage until the Aggies reconvene in August to begin preparations for the Sept. 3 opener at Cal.
Hunter Rodrigues would have been the seventh candidate had he not opted to graduate early with a year of eligibility remaining. He would have had the edge in experience over the other hopefuls after starting all five games last spring and six of 12 in the fall. There was nothing to suggest Rodrigues was in jeopardy of losing the job until he sustained a concussion on a 5-yard run in the fourth quarter at Weber State on Sept. 25.
Hastings came off the bench and to the offense’s rescue by playing with the poise of a senior despite being just a freshman. He completed seven of nine passes for 50 yards as the Aggies went 56 yards in 13 plays to take a 17-14 lead with 27 seconds to play. Trent Tompkins replaced Hastings and scored on a 1-yard plunge to cap the drive that lasted more than six minutes. UC Davis safety Erron Duncan sealed the victory with an interception on the first play of Weber State’s ensuing possession.
With Rodrigues sitting out the following week, Hastings started against Idaho and the offense sputtered with 13 points in three quarters. Tompkins took a few snaps in the first three quarters before taking over in the fourth. He accounted for every yard in a 62-yard drive that he capped by lofting a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jared Harrell. Tompkins completed all three of his passes for 34 yards and added two runs for 28.
UC Davis took the lead at 27-20 with 8:05 to play when wide receiver Carson Crawford took a pitch from Tompkins and tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to tight end McCallan Castles.
As they did against Idaho, the Aggies scored 14 points in the fourth quarter at Idaho State the following week. Those points did nothing more than make the game appear closer than it was. Rodrigues started and struggled, completing as many passes to the Bengals (two) as he did to his teammates. Idaho State turned those two interceptions into 10 points in building a 24-3 halftime lead on its way to a 27-17 victory.
The game was intriguing if for no other reason than Hawkins’ decision to go with Tompkins’ legs instead of Hastings’ arm when Rodrigues was sent to the bench after throwing his second interception on the first play of the second quarter with UC Davis trailing 14-0.
Hastings got his chance on the Aggies’ first possession in the third quarter, threw an interception on second-and-9 at Idaho State’s 16-yard line after UC Davis marched 59 yards in 12 plays and was never seen again that day. At least Rodrigues got the opportunity to throw a second interception before he got the hook from Hawkins.
Such an exit was nothing new for Hastings. The difference was his departure against Idaho State was not scripted. Hastings was told last March that he would get the third possession against Cal Poly. “Whether we went down and scored or not, (Rodrigues) was going to go back in,” recalled Hastings, who did not keep Rodrigues out for long by throwing an interception that the Mustangs returned for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
“Obviously, that was not how I wanted it to go,” Hastings said. “It’s football. Bad plays happen. It’s a matter of how you come back from that and shake it off.”
Hastings did get a second chance, although getting his number called with UC Davis leading 59-17 was not the best situation to show what he can do. Hastings did complete all four of his passes for 50 yards and a touchdown, but you have to wonder if Cal Poly expected UC Davis would be throwing with such a lopsided lead.
There is nothing wrong with running the ball when a game is well out of hand. Four minutes after Hastings threw his first touchdown pass with the Aggies, Tompkins scored on an 86-yard dash to make it 73-17. Tompkins was the Aggies second-leading rusher last fall with 477 yards and tied Ulonzo Gilliam for the team lead in rushing touchdowns with six.
One can throw (hopefully only to his teammates). The other can run. And there are four other candidates, with the latest being transfer Jack Newman from San Francisco City College. All Newman did last fall was pass for 3,583 yards and 38 touchdowns as the Rams finished 13-0. He did throw six interceptions, so the other UC Davis candidates should never count themselves out.
In the words of Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”