SACRAMENTO — “I was shocked we were up by so much,” UC Davis senior quarterback Randy Wright said with a laugh. “And to end my career with my teammates like this … It just means the world to me.”
And to Aggie Nation.
In front of 12,571 fans at Hornet Stadium on Saturday, the Aggies laid the wood to host Sacramento State with a 34-7 thrashing in the 60th annual Causeway Classic.
For UCD, it marked its 43rd victory in the longtime rivalry. For Wright, he ends his college career with a 4-0 mark against his cross-river cousins.
For first-year coach Ron Gould, it was the high-water mark in a season that saw his charges open 0-4 before getting the hang of it with a 5-3 Big Sky Conference run.
The win also means the Aggies (5-7) finished with their best record since 2010 and earned a four-way tie with Montana State, Southern Utah and Cal Poly for fourth place in league. UCD was picked by Big Sky media to finish 11th in conference.
“I am thrilled to death!” Gould told the assembled media afterward. “My hat is off to these players. Just their preparation, fight and resiliency.
“We have a special group of seniors that believe in me and believes in the staff and believed in each other.”
On Saturday, the seniors had Sacramento State believing …
After the Hornets’ opening drive stalled on a fourth-down misfire, UCD drove 73 yards in just six plays to score on a 2-yard Gabe Manzanares run.
Sacramento State (5-7, 4-4) — behind three-time Big Sky Player of the Week Garrett Safron — started another march to Aggieland.
This time the drive ended when Brad Cornish muffed a 24-yard field-goal attempt and the locals saddled up Manzanares again.
Carrying three times for 53 yards, the Feel-Good Story of 2013 scored from 33 out and the rout was on.
Manzanares accounted for 217 yards on the night — 122 rushing and 95 more on four receptions. It was the City College of San Francisco transfer’s fifth straight 100-yard ground game.
The St. Ignatius High graduate finished the year with 1,285 yards (seventh most in UCD single-season history). He rushed for 10 touchdowns. Out of the backfield, he was a favorite target of Wright’s, catching 27 passes for 385 yards and another score.
Wright talked about the Aggie formula: “Just give (Gabe) the rock and let him do his thing.”
Manzanares’ 122 yards came on 27 carries.
But remember the Hornets had 628 yards of total offense in last week’s 43-42 win over Portland State. A two-touchdown lead, on any other night, would be wobbly against Sacramento State.
However, on the next two Hornet possessions, the Aggies forced three-and-outs, eventually setting up shop at the Sac State 42.
This time it was former Long Beach Poly star Manusamoa Luuga carrying the load — three runs for 30 yards and a 14-yard TD.
Down 21-0, the Hornets mounted their only scoring drive.
Jordan Robinson’s 4-yard TD was the last hurrah for Sacramento State (at 5:48 of the second period).
“Give Davis the credit,” said Hornets head coach Marshall Sperbeck. “They had a good game plan, they execute well on offense. Defensively, they kept us in check.”
Safron would end his season with a 22-of-33 passing sheet, good for 221 yards but no touchdowns.
Toward the end of Safron’s night (he’d give way to Jihad Vercher in the fourth period), UCD’s Artice Nelson picked off one of his passes after cornerback Shamawn Wright broke up a throw headed for Morris Norrise.
Norrise caught six passes for 101 yards, but couldn’t fill the shoes of the injured DeAndre Carter.
Carter had tied a school record with 14 TDs this fall. His 934 yards paced the Hornets. But an ankle injury suffered against Portland State kept him on the sidelines Saturday.
Sperbeck admitted Carter’s absence hurt:
“When you have a receiver out who’s caught 65 passes and scored 14 touchdowns (it’s) going to affect the quarterback more than anybody. He’s kind of Safron’s right-hand guy.”
Carter is a junior.
While Safron was being chased down — UCD had two sacks from defensive end Nick King and one each from Zack Pettit and Steven Pitts — Randy Wright was coaxing efficiency from the his Aggie brethren.
Completing 17-of-22 for 212 yards, Wright’s final Aggie pass (22 seconds into the final quarter) was good for a 6-yard touchdown to fellow senior Tom Hemmingsen.
Nice way to go out.
Notes: The Causeway Classic was a much better Big Game for Gould to coach. His old school, Cal, lost to Stanford, 63-13, Saturday. … Pitts led all tacklers with 13. CB Jonathan Perkins and DE Colin Kelly had nine stops each and Anthony Kaspar, Ryan Dimino, Charles Boyett and King each had five. … Big Sky leading tackler Todd Davis made 12 stops. Wright was sacked by Tent Eskew. … UCD won the second half, 10-0, thanks to having the ball for 10:56 of the third period (a quarter in which the Hornets had but one possession). … Gould said after the game: “I told (the players) in the locker room … for them to come in and believe in a short, fat, bald man and continue to fight the way they’ve been fighting, (this win) is a testament to their character. I’m so blessed to have had the opportunity to coach these guys.” … Hemmingsen caught seven throws for 52 yards, finishing the season with 60 receptions for 640 yards and four scores.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com