SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Redshirt freshman C.J. Spencer threw for 312 yards and 3 TDs, running back Manusamoa Luuga and receiver Chris Martin each posted 100-yard days and the defense shut out Sacramento State for 3-1/2 quarters as UC Davis beat the host Hornets, 35-21, in the 62nd annual Causeway Classic on Saturday afternoon at Hornet Stadium.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Aggies, who end the 2015 season with a 2-9 overall record and a 2-6 mark in the Big Sky. Sacramento State, which got 296 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Nate Ketteringham, concludes its season with the same record.
Spencer, making his third consecutive start after replacing injured quarterback Ben Scott, threw for more than 300 yards for the second consecutive week. He’s the first Aggie to do that since Greg Denham in 2008. Luuga rushed for a career-high 117 yards while Martin caught eight passes for 115 yards. It was Luuga’s first career 100-yard rushing game and Martin’s third 100-yard receiving day of the season.
Linebacker Brady Stibi posted a career-best 10 tackles, including seven solo, while defensive end Brandon Weaver had two sacks for 10 yards. Cornerbacks Patrick Wells and Desmond Lewis, along with safety Darryl Graham, each broke up two passes for a defensive backfield depleted by injuries.
UC Davis led 21-0 at halftime behind a 13-yard rush by Spencer, and Spencer’s 8-yard TD toss to tight end Atlas Smith and 3-yarder to Luuga. Trailing 21-7, Sacramento State got to within seven on linebacker Tyler Meteer’s 43-yard blocked punt return in the third quarter. However, the Aggies stifled the momentum with an impressive five-play, 95-yard drive that took just over two minutes at the end of the third and resulted in Spencer’s strike down the middle to tight end Nehemiah Winston from 18 yards.
UC Davis chewed up nearly eight minutes in the fourth quarter with a 15-play, 80-yard drive before freshman Joshua Kelley, who had 71 of the Aggies’ season-high 211 rushing yards, went around the right side for three yards. That pushed the lead to 35-14 with 6:21 to go.
A nice 26-yard TD pass from Ketteringham to Jaelin Ratliff got the Hornets back to within 14, and they recovered the ensuing onsides kick, but UC Davis was able to keep them out of the end zone the rest of the way and then run out the clock.
The Aggies finished with season-bests for total yards (523), passing yards (312) and first downs (31), in addition to their rushing yards. UC Davis’ defense gave up a season-low 64 yards, the first time it’s held an opponent below 100 since the 2013 Causeway Classic, when it allowed just 75.
UC Davis got on the scoreboard midway through the first quarter when Spencer, after completing three passes for 42 yards, ran in from 13 yards for his first career rushing touchdown. Spencer then found Corey Collins for 18 yards and Martin for 14, setting up a TD to Smith in the left corner of the end zone, making it 14-0 early in the second quarter.
The Aggies took over on their own 6 on their next drive and marched the length of the field in nine plays with Luuga’s short touchdown reception giving them a 21-0 advantage. Big plays were the rule of the drive for UC Davis which got a 13-yard run from Luuga, passes of 15 and 27 yards, respectively, to Martin and Alex Cannon, and then a 31-yard scamper from Kelley.
UC Davis’ 95-yard drive in the third that ended with Winston’s touchdown featured completions of 31 to Smith and 23 and 22 yards to Martin.
The Aggies’ defense was impressive throughout the game, forcing punts and just 58 yards on Sacramento State’s first four drives. Linebacker Travon Brook had nine tackles, safeties Ryan Parenteau and Zach Jones each had five, while Weaver also added five including his two sacks. Defensive end Walter Earnest added another sack for UC Davis.
“I just want to commend this team and these seniors for their resiliency, their grit and their passion. They stayed together,” said third-year Aggie coach Ron Gould. “You talk about ‘Aggie Pride’, you talk about the unity, family, togetherness and brotherhood, and that’s what you see in these kids."
Ketteringham just missed his third straight 300-yard game for Sacramento State, receiver Shane Harrison (9 rec., 99 yds, 1 TD) was a yard shy of his fourth-straight 100-yard effort and standout linebacker Darnell Sankey, who had a game-high 17 tackles, was just one shy of the Hornets’ single-season record of 153.
The visiting team has now won the last three Causeway Classics while the Aggies increased their series lead to 44-19, including a 15-6 record at Hornet Stadium.