SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Kevin Thomson accounted for 416 yards of total offense and three touchdowns to guide the No. 4-ranked Sacramento State football team to a 27-17 win over UC Davis in the 66th Causeway Classic presented by Pepsi on Saturday night in front of 19,882 fans at Hornet Stadium.
The win capped a historic regular season for the Hornets who clinched a share of the Big Sky Conference title while improving to 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league games. The nine overall wins are the most for the team since it won 10 in the 1988 season while competing at the Div. II level. The seven Big Sky victories were also a program best and the conference title was the first since Sacramento State joined the Big Sky in 1996.
The Hornets placed themselves in an uncomfortable situation, falling behind 17-10 at halftime and trailing 17-13 after three quarter. Sacramento State had previously been 0-3 this season when trailing at both marks. The team, however, bucked the trend when Marshel Martin caught a pass from Thomson and then broke free for a 51-yard score to put the Hornets on top 20-17 with 11:51 left in the game.
"The game didn't go exactly the way we wanted it to go but we made some big plays down the stretch," Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor said. "Our defense, after a rough first half, gave us a chance by shutting them out in the second half.
"I'm happiest for our seniors. When you come in and take over a program, sometimes those guys don't buy in. (Our seniors) never blinked, they were awesome so I'm really happy they are champions."
Sacramento State sealed the contest with a 33-yard run from Thomson around the left edge with 3:04 left. The team's final two scoring drives covered 96 and 93 yards, respectively. That carry took him over 100 yards rushing in the game and was his fourth career game over the century mark.
UC Davis had one final drive after the score but a 4th-and-25 play proved unsuccessful and the Hornets were able to run out the clock before celebrating at midfield with the conference and Causeway Classic trophies.
"To be able to play with these guys has been amazing," Thomson said. "Marshel made two incredible plays and shows the grit and toughness he has. If I can get the ball into their hands I know something special is going to happen.
"I wasn't playing great in the first half but was feeling fresher and a bit more confident in the second half. (On the final touchdown) I felt like I could get around the end and got a big block from BJ (Perkinson). Without that block there would be no touchdown."
The Aggies struck first in the game when Jake Maier connected with Khris Vaughn for a 76-yard touchdown pass. Vaughn was open about 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and then outran the Hornet defense down the right sideline for the UCD's longest play from scrimmage this year.
After Devon Medeiros made a 24-yard field goal and Max O'Rourke answered with a 39-yard field goal for Davis, the Aggies pushed the lead to 17-3 with 6:47 left in the first half. With the Hornets backed up near their own goal line, Da'Von Frazier perfectly read a Thomson screen pass and intercepted the ball just outside the goal line and walked in for the score to make it 17-3.
Sacramento State had one final surge in the first half with a 13-play, 75-yard drive which resulted in a 3-yard rush from Thomson. During the series, the Hornets converted 3rd-and-20 with a 24-yard pass to Pierre Williams and later a 4th-and-10 with a 19-yard grab by Isaiah Gable. Thomson appeared to be picked off by Jordan Perryman on 3rd-and-2 from the 3-yard line but he ruled out of bounds to give the Hornets life. Thomson followed on fourth down by rolling to his right and then diving for the pylon for the score.
Medeiros provided the only points of the third quarter with a 24-yard field goal on the opening drive of the half. The Hornets marched 16 plays during the series and took 5:42 off the clock but could not draw closer than the Aggie 6-yard line before settling for the field goal.
Sacramento State used long drives and deep starting field position throughout the game to run a school-record tying 101 plays and total 530 yards. The offense was balanced with 55 pass attempts for 300 yards and 46 rushes for 230. Thomson got off to a slow start passing before finding his rhythm and finishing 28-of-55 for 300 yards with a score and an interception. The game marked the first time in his career that he rushed for 100 yards and threw for 300 yards in a game.
Elijah Dotson had over 100 yards of total offense with 69 rushing and 34 receiving. BJ Perkinson added 45 rushing yards. Marshel Martin caught five passes for 86 yards and Parker Clayton caught a team-high six passes for 60 yards. Martin's touchdown was his seventh of the season which set the record by a Hornet tight end in the Div. I era.
Defensively, Sacramento State limited the Aggies to 296 total yards, including only 133 over the final three quarters. Jake Maier was 20-of-36 for 233 yards with a touchdown in his final collegiate game. Ulonzo Gilliam, Jr., had 61 rushing yards and Khris Vaughn led all players with 135 receiving yards on six receptions.
Marcus Hawkins led the Hornets with 10 total tackles, including a sack. Marcus Bruce added eight tackles and Jeremy Harris had seven.
"I feel blessed," Dariyn Choates said. "I've been through it all. We still have a lot more to do because our goal is higher than a Big Sky championship but I'm happy to see the fruits of our labor."
Sacramento State will now await its playoff fate. The 24-team Football Championship Subdivision field will be announced on Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. on ESPNU.The Hornets will be making their first FCS playoff appearance and first postseason berth since the 1988 Div. II playoffs.
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