Sacramento State rolls UC Davis to cap unbeaten Big Sky run


Sacramento State Hornets wide receiver Isaiah Gable (4) scores a touchdown as he’s defended by UC Davis Aggies defensive back Erron Duncan (32) on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 during the Causeway Classic football game at UC Davis Health Stadium in Davis.

Troy Taylor didn’t see it coming, and he lost his ability to sidestep and dodge years ago, so he wasn’t going to avoid the inevitable anyway.

The celebratory bucket dump he received Saturday afternoon was a welcomed cold capper for a surging season that has plenty of legs left. Taylor is the third-year Sacramento State football coach who has twice soaked in such postgame icy joy in recent seasons, and he’s done it at a school where such moments have been so infrequent that it makes the recent success all the more remarkable.

The No. 11-ranked Hornets played their best game of the season, given the opponent and the magnitude of the moment, in beating No. 10 UC Davis 27-7 in the 67th Causeway Classic at Jim Sochor Field to win the Big Sky Conference championship.

Earlier Saturday, No. 7 Montana beat No. 3 Montana State 29-10 to hand the Bobcats their first Big Sky loss, leaving the Big Sky crown for the Hornets to have all to themselves. The Hornets won a piece of the Big Sky in 2019, their first, and advanced to the FCS playoffs for the first time.

Taylor hugged players and coaches as the sun set Saturday, including hoisting the Big Sky trophy, before meeting with the media. The one-time Cal quarterback star addressed his limited mobility on the watery dump, saying with a laugh, “I really didn’t have any pocket presence, and have been accused of that before. (The ice bath) was the worst part of the day.”

Sac State (9-2) now takes its school-record eight-game winning streak into the FCS playoffs with the bracket announcement coming Sunday morning on ESPNU. UCD (8-3) is also hopeful of extending its season. The Aggies won the Big Sky in 2018. Taylor said the Aggies are playoff-worthy.

The Hornets certainly are because they have been efficient, fast and physical much of this season. Sac State was down on players due to injuries, but showcased more depth and plenty of defensive muscle in a conference in which teams score in abundance. UCD scored with 1:41 left on C.J. Hutton’s 16-yard catch from Hunter Rodrigues, otherwise the Hornets would have pitched their first Causeway shutout since winning 31-0 in 1960.

Sac State had 150 yards in the first quarter to UCD’s six. The Hornets led 24-0 at the half, delighting the Sac State fans and dulling those from UCD in an overflow setting with 12,315 tickets sold. Sac State rushed for 192 yards and passed for 244, 194 from Jake Dunniway.

Cameron Skattebo rushed for 69 yards and had a rumbling 37-yard touchdown as he continued his impressive redshirt freshman season. Asher O’Hara, rushed for 62 yards for Sac State, which opened the scoring with an Isaiah Gable touchdown, made it 10-0 on a Kyle Sentowski 21-yard field goal, pushed it to 17-0 on Skattebo’s score, then 24-0 on O’Hara’s 1-yard plunge and 27-0 on Sentowski’s 49-yard field goal with 4:06 left in the third quarter.

Sac State came up with interceptions from Tali Finefeuiaki, Ariel Ngata and Marcus Hawkins under coordinator Andy Thompson to stymie the Aggies.

“Congrats to the Hornets,” UCD coach Dan Hawkins said. “Troy’s done a great job. They got after us. They out-coached us, out-played us.”

Still, the Hornets insist they can get better. Said Dunniway, “I don’t think we’ve arrived yet. Really proud of the guys. We have the best coaching staff in the country.”

For the Hornets, the Causeway has often been a pain, with little to play for beyond school pride. In the first 65 years of the Sac State football program, the Hornets managed to win just three conference championships. They now have two in the past three seasons. There was no 2020 season due to the pandemic.

As recently as 2018, Sac State went winless in the Big Sky. Since Taylor’s arrival, the Hornets have gone 15-1 in the Big Sky, widely deemed the top FCS conference in the land, and he has gone 9-0 on the road against FCS teams. This marks just the third undefeated conference season in Sac State history, following the 6-0 showing in the Division II Far Western Conference in 1966 under coach Ray Clemons and the 3-0 effort in the Division I-AA American West Conference under coach John Volek.

“The defense was incredible the entire afternoon and gave us tons of opportunities,” Taylor said. “Our guys are energized. Doesn’t seem like they’re tired at all.”

Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988. He is a 14-time award winner from the California Prep Sports Writer Association. In 2021, Davidson was honored with the CIF Distinguished Service. He is a member of the California Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.

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