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Davis

Davis, California

Saturday, January 22, 2022

UC Davis stung by Sac State in the 67th edition of rivalry matchup

The Hornets claim their second Big Sky Conference title in three years with Causeway Classic win over the Aggies

 

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

UC Davis hosted the 67th edition of the Causeway Classic, the final regular season game against cross-town rivals, Sacramento State. The game had FCS playoff implications at stake in addition to the bragging rights. With so much on the line and home field advantage, the Aggies looked like a lesser version of themselves falling by a final score of 7-27.

Two weeks ago, UC Davis sat at 8-1 and seemed to be a sure lock for the FCS playoffs. Now, two weeks later, the Aggies dropped two straight conference games and went from a possible seed and hosting a playoff game to having to go on the road in the first round after their loss to the Hornets.

“Well congrats to the Hornets, Troy [Taylor] did a great job, those kids came over here and played their tails off, got after us and made plays,” UC Davis Head Coach Dan Hawkins said. “They out coached us, they outplayed us.”

UC Davis showed little resemblance to the team that started the season 5-0 and overpowered their opponents with their superior defense and their ability to put up points. Davis now stands at 8-3, raising questions about the FCS playoffs.

“They came ready to play, they played hard. They were coached well, they wanted it more than us, all we can do is learn from it,” second-year Defensive Back Chris Venable said after the game.

Redshirt Freshman signal caller Miles Hastings threw two costly interceptions as he looked uncomfortable under pressure in the pocket. While needing to release the ball rather quickly against Sacramento’s pass rush, Hastings overthrew some of his receivers. The offensive line did not hold up long enough to provide Hastings enough time in the pocket to make proper reads. This led to short passes that failed to generate first downs throughout the game.

With the passing game looking out of sync, the Aggies turned to their running game. However, Sac-State was well prepared for the versatile attack. The Hornets’ four-pass rushers flushed out the run game by collapsing the line of scrimmage, preventing the Aggies rushing attack. UC Davis was held to just 73 rushing yards on 23 attempts, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt.

Sacramento State utilizes two multi-talented quarterbacks to start the game — Jake Dunniway, more of a traditional pocket passer, and Asher O’Hara, a mobile signal caller who can sling the ball. Dunniway and O’Hara combined their offensive talent to keep UC Davis’ defensive gameplan in flux. The strategy imposed by Sacramento kept Davis on their toes as they did not seem to know if the quarterback would air it out or run it down the middle. Eventually, running back Isaiah Gable for the green and white came away with a rushing touchdown of 11 yards.

It took 11 plays, 75 yards and a touchdown on the opening drive to put the home team down 7-0. The blue and gold offense looked stale, failing to produce a first down going three and out on two consecutive drives. On third and eight, Dunniway and company would capitalize by throwing a dart down the middle of the field worth 27 yards to tight end Marshel Martin. This extended the drive into the second quarter, resulting in a field goal to make it 10-0 for the visiting team.

Hastings would respond with a string of completions to extend the drive onto the 33 yard line. Hastings seemed to be finding his rhythm with his quick release, however, the O-line would not hold up. Sacramento bull rushed Hastings on first and 10 as he scrambled out of the pocket getting hit while throwing the ball away.

Hastings looked uncomfortable under duress after that play. On the next play he felt the pressure by the pass rush and threw the ball into heavy coverage resulting in an interception by Marcus Hawkins. The interception changed the complexion of the game as UCD was not able to recover.

Sacramento State would convert the turnover into seven points on two plays for 77 yards in 26 seconds making it, 17-0. UC Davis did not have an answer, as they had trouble converting on third down and eventually punted the ball back to the visiting team.

Still in the second quarter, O’Hara would go into the game under center for the white and green, driving the Hornets down to the one-yard line with a combination of his throwing and running abilities. He easily ran into the endzone to put Sacramento State up 24-0 in a blowout. O’Hara’s drive was composed of 10 plays with an impressive 81 yards to close the second quarter.

The Aggies looked discouraged and demoralized as did the home crowd, although a good amount of UC Davis Health Stadium was filled with the opposing team’s fans who took a quick drive across the Causeway. The stadium was filled with 12,315 spectators; the home crowd was mainly silent and stunned throughout the contest. With the playoff positioning on the line, no one expected a one-sided contest. However, if any one knew how to get them going it was Hawkins.

When asked about the atmosphere in the stadium, Hawkins said, “We got great crowds the whole year. We got probably close to 10,000 almost every home game so it’s been fun.”

UC Davis came out of the half looking like the team that kept their opponents guessing by mixing in the run game with the passing game. The game plan was obvious, feed running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr, the ball. Hastings connected with Gilliam Jr, on four occasions for a combined 41 yards. Hastings was getting better protection as he looked slightly better under the constant stress produced by the pass rush.

However, getting penalized for a delay of game would cost UC Davis five yards. That type of mistake would haunt Davis with reliable kicker Isaiah Gomez missing a 44-yard field goal. The Hornets would take over to go three and out with outstanding defense from Davis.

Trying to get something started, the Aggies had another turnover, this time from Carson Crawford throwing an interception off a trick play that UC Davis tried to try and get things going. Again, the lack of execution would attenuate the misfortunes that occurred on the field. Meanwhile, Sacramento would turn Davis’ misfortunes into their fortunes, which proved to be the difference in the game scoring a field goal to extend the lead, 27-0.

The Aggies were running out of time with four minutes left in the third quarter. They reverted to their aerial attack with a sense of growing desperation that they needed a touchdown. However, throwing the ball with a quarterback who seemed to have happy feet every time the pass rush would blitz was risky with Hastings under duress.

Instead of throwing deep, the play calling seemed to be conservative with short slant passes that would help Hastings release the ball quickly and effectively. On third and eight, Hastings connected with McCallan Castles for 17 yards down the sideline. Trent Tompkins would then go under center completing a 12-yard pass to Lan Larison. Finally, Davis was able to move the chains in the passing game.

On fourth down, Davis was forced to go for it trailing by 27 with time expiring in the third, Hastings dropping back with the pocket collapsing, he threw deep to ultimately get picked off by Tali Finefeuiaki. The turnover led to many Aggie fans heading for the exits and those who remained were in disbelief.

With three minutes remaining on the clock, Hawkins decided to make a quarterback change, removing Hastings, who finished with 21/42 for 181 yards, and two interceptions. Hawkins summoned a familiar face under center, Hunter Rodrigues. Rodrigues went 3/3 with 42 yards and a touchdown to avoid a shutout.

“He did a nice job, he’s a great kid,” Hawkins said.

This loss marks the second loss in a row for the Aggies dropping them out of the top 10 rankings. Additionally, Davis had to wait and see if they could get a bid for the postseason as the fifth team out of the Big Sky conference. Meanwhile, Sacramento State automatically earns a bid into the postseason by claiming the Big Sky conference championship.

“That’s a really good football team, and they’ll be in the playoffs,” head coach Troy Taylor said after the game. “They deserve to be in the playoffs after the season they had.”

Indeed the Aggies will be extending their season, making the FCS Playoffs as an at-large bid. They will travel to Brookings, South Dakota to take on the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State on Nov. 27, in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

 

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