Aarynn Jones skipped across the UC Davis field thumping his chest and shouted, "We ain't going to the playoffs? They ain't going to the playoffs!"
Jones, a free safety for UC Davis, had just come off the field after crushing Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron in the backfield to help force an incompletion and one play before Aggies linebacker Jordan Glass intercepted Safron to preserve a 34-27 victory in the 59th Causeway Classic at Aggie Stadium on Saturday night.
The turnover was one of four and tied a season high for the Hornets, who finished 6-5 and failed to qualify for the postseason mainly because of faulty special-teams play.
UC Davis ended the season 4-7 but played the spoiler, and preventing the Hornets from making the playoffs lessened much of the pain from a disappointing season, Glass said.
The Aggies sent head coach Bob Biggs into retirement with a win, his 16th Causeway Classic victory in 20 years as head coach. Biggs ends his 39-year association with the Aggies program (player, assistant coach, head coach) with a 30-10 record in the annual rivalry game between the two schools separated by an intercounty concrete bridge.
"We were playing man-under (defense) that allows a free player, and I was that free player," Glass said of the interception, the third of the year for the senior linebacker from Elk Grove. "He (Safron) was looking left, and I was surprised he threw it."
Glass returned the interception 33 yards to the Hornets' 28-yard line and four plays later the victory was complete.
Glass was all over the field and keyed the Aggies' special teams as well. He returned a blocked extra-point attempt 97 yards in the first quarter for the Aggies' first points and ended his collegiate career with a game-high 12 tackles.
"Arguably, well, maybe not arguably, Jordan has been our team's most valuable player," an emotional Biggs said in a postgame news conference.
UC Davis converted the four turnovers into 18 points. Morris Norrise dropped a 63-yard Colton Schmidt punt midway through the second quarter at his 20-yard line that managed to bounce all the way to the goal line, where it was pounced on by Steven Pitts for an Aggies touchdown. Another Safron interception led to a 45-yard field goal by Brady Stuart.
But another key turnover that turned into points came early in the fourth quarter with Sac State leading 27-26. One play after Hornets defensive back Markell Williams intercepted a Randy Wright pass at midfield, Hornets head coach Marshall Sperbeck elected to go for the knockout punch and called for a trick play.
Safron handed off to running back Ezekiel Graham, who pitched back to Norrise.
Safron ran down the field into the end zone and Norrise let it fly. But three Aggies were not fooled on the play and covered Safron like a blanket. Phillip Thrappas made the interception for a touchback, and the Aggies marched 80 yards in six plays for a score, capped by an eight-yard pass from Wright to tight end Taylor Sloat. That proved to be the game-winning score.
Safron set a single-game school record for completions with 37 and attempts with 66. He threw for a career-high 324 yards but most certainly will be thinking about the last of 66 attempts.
Graham was set to be the star of the game for the Hornets with team highs of 110 yards rushing and 81 yards receiving. But Safron's and Graham's efforts couldn't make up for the miscues.
"They played better than we did," Sperbeck said. "We had opportunities, but our mistakes hurt us. There's not much you can say (to the team). It was their last game, and they feel pretty bad."
The last six Causeway Classics have been just that classics. Each has been decided by 10 points or fewer. The Aggies have gone 4-2 during that stretch and are on a three-game winning streak.
But to Biggs, the game wasn't about the team across the field. It was about his program and his players.
"This game wasn't about Sac State at all," he said. "This was about UC Davis and how we played. Our special teams coach, Jeff Copp, has done a wonderful job, and it's fitting that this game came down to special teams. It showed just how important special teams are in games like these."