SACRAMENTO — “Having the opportunity to coach in this game is really something special,” said Sacramento State coach Marshall Sperbeck.
“Although I’m new to it, what’s exciting to see is how … alumni, people on campus, the players all are energized by this game,” explained UC Davis’ Ron Gould.
With both football coaches speaking kindly of their opponent, almost 300 fans and school supporters got their last whiff of pleasantries at Thursday’s Causeway Classic luncheon and news conference at the DoubleTree Hotel.
Sperbeck, 2-4 in his six career meetings with the Aggies, said he looks at UCD a little differently now than he did when Bob Biggs was at the reins.
“They play a short game (ball control). They have a balanced attack … a very good defense. As new coaches should, this team has coach Gould’s stamp on it.”
Conversely, Gould said the Hornet offense has been keeping him up at night: “They’re one of the fastest teams we’ve faced this year.”
Two Causeway combatants — Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron and Aggie running back Gabe Manzanares — became topics of conversation on Thursday.
“What a great story,” Sperbeck said of Manzanares and his walk-on 1,163 yards rushing. “And don’t forget their O-line, a big, physical group that does a good job moving people around.”
About Safron …
While setting a Sacramento State record of 554 yards passing, Safron accounted for four TDs through the air and another two rushing in a 43-42 come-from-behind win over Portland State last week.
Asked if he thought maybe sneaking 12 guys in on defense would help contain the Hornet junior, Gould replied, “I’m not sure if 15 would do any good.”
With all the talk over, UCD will see if it can make it four straight in the 60th renewal of the Classic. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Field. (Tickets are still available through either school and tailgating is permitted, with gates opening at 11:30 a.m.)
Even with no championships on the line and no postseason in the teams’ immediate future, whichever squad wins will finish ahead of the other in the rough-and-tumble Big West Conference (where both are 4-3). The Hornets are 5-6 overall. The Aggies are 4-7.
“If we win, we have bragging rights for a little bit,” UCD quarterback Randy Wright told the luncheon audience, adding that it means something because so many of the opposing players know each other.
UCD is coming off a 34-27 Causeway Classic win over Sacramento State in Biggs’ career finale. The last time the Hornets won the rivalry game was at home on Nov. 2, 2009, a 31-28 decision.
Each of the past four games have been decided by seven points or fewer. The Aggies lead the all-time series 42-18 (which includes a Hornet win in the 1988 Division II postseason).
Given Sac State’s penchant for dramatics, mediocre defense and high-scoring adventures, one might expect 100 combined points on Saturday.
But balance that with UCD’s clock-chewing small ball — and the league’s top-ranked defense against the pass — and the game looks like another of those not-so-offensive outings that the Aggies have played each of the past four weeks.
Gould reminds us that nobody knows what to expect:
A veteran of 16 Big Games between Cal and Stanford while he was a Golden Bear coach, Gould says, “In rivalries like this, you can throw out the records. One team can be 0-10, the other 10-0 … and it will still be a good game.
“There’s going to be a lot energy and a lot of passion.”
Wright is 3-0 as a starter against Sacramento State. There are 14 other local seniors who haven’t lost to the Hornets.
Sacramento State features 12 seniors.
“It’s the tradition,” UCD wideout Tom Hemmingsen explained. “It’s something I take to heart and my teammates take it to heart.
“There is nothing more I could ask for — it’s my senior year, the Causeway Classic.
“I’m just going to go out there with my teammates — my brothers — and do the best we can.”
Notes: Hornet wide receiver DeAndre Carter had five of his 14 touchdown receptions when Safron threw for seven TDs in a 63-56 overtime win over Southern Oregon on Sept. 14. One more score and Carter sets a new school single-season record. … Sac State has played three OT games. … In addition to Scott Marsh and Doug Kelly on KHTK (1140 AM), the Classic will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet California with Barry Thompkins doing the play-by-play. … Defensive tackle Anthony Kaspar’s blocked conversion kick last week was his second kick snuff of the season. Overall, the Aggies have four blocked kicks in 2013. … Safron has thrown for 3,068 yards (ninth best in the Football Championship Subdivision) and 27 touchdowns (seventh nationally). … That three-game Causeway Classic win streak is nice for UCD, but did you know the Aggies once took 18 straight (1970-87) against the Hornets? … The bands and pep quads from each school performed at the luncheon, which was attended by former Aggie coaches Biggs and Jim Sochor.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.