College Sports

Causeway Classic adds another twist to rivalry that has plenty: game moved to Reno

Keelan Doss, center, and UC Davis will no longer host the 65th Causeway Classic at Aggie Stadium. The annual rivalry game with Sacramento State will be played Saturday in Reno.
Keelan Doss, center, and UC Davis will no longer host the 65th Causeway Classic at Aggie Stadium. The annual rivalry game with Sacramento State will be played Saturday in Reno. Sacramento Bee file

This rivalry has experienced everything: thrillers to the wire, blowouts, games in the mud, games in the fog and games to salvage and extend seasons.

Now the topper: The 65th Causeway Classic between Sacramento State and UC Davis will be played out of state, in Reno, on Saturday with a noon kickoff.

The move was to best ensure safety for student-athletes and fans who planned to attend the contest originally scheduled for Aggie Stadium in Davis. But the air quality did not look promising in Yolo County – or much of anywhere in Northern California, for that matter – prompting a venue change that capped a whirlwind last few days of scrambling for options.

The Camp Fire that has devastated parts of Butte County, including the town of Paradise, has clogged much of Northern California with smoke. It’s been so bad that UCD, Sac State and most all area school districts closed campuses.

UCD coach Dan Hawkins joked Thursday, “We may have to go to Reno to play it, or we can play at 5 in the morning before it gets too bad, or we can play it in the park.”

Now it’s Mackay Stadium, where the game-time temperature will be 55 degrees with crisp, clean air.

The urgency of this game went beyond any rivalry meaning. UCD at 8-2 is coming off a 59-20 loss in the chill of Cheney in the Pacific Northwest, home of national powerhouse Eastern Washington.

The Aggies are eager to suit up again with a home FCS postseason game on the line. The playoff teams will be announced Sunday.

Sac State, meanwhile, was hopeful of having a final game to cap a trying season. The Hornets are 2-7, undone by a rash of injuries after good health and good fortune propelled the program to its best Big Sky Conference showing in 2017.

Sac State in 2017 went 7-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play, capped with a 52-47 season-ending victory over UCD that nearly landed the Hornets their first FCS playoff bid. UCD this season under its spirited second-year coach has made a quantum leap, including halting its consecutive losing seasons streak at six.

“We need a game,” Hawkins said. “Baseball has a lot of games. Basketball has a lot of games. Football has a lot of practices but not a lot of games.”

Hawkins played in the Causeway in 1981 and ’82 as a hard-charging fullback and later coached in it as an assistant with the Aggies. The game still resonates deep in his soul, but he doesn’t whip up rivalry talk with any sense of venom.

“I’m not into hate,” Hawkins said Thursday at the Causeway luncheon. “There’s enough of that in our world. I’m not into that. I respect teams. Respect each other. That’s the message the rest of the world needs to listen to.”

Hawkins isn’t motivated by success, he said. He’s inspired by those who coached him and mentored him at UCD.

“Every single day I wonder what Bob Biggs would do, what Fred Arp would do, what Bob Foster would do, what Jim Sochor would do,” Hawkins said. “I don’t feel pressure with wins and losses. I feel a lot of pressure representing Aggie pride.”

Whether the game is in Sacramento, in Yolo County, in a park or in Reno, it always has the attention of Jody Sears. This will be his fifth Causeway Classic as the Sac State coach.

“I absolutely love the rivalry and the spirit of the game,” he said.

A peek at notable Causeway Classic notes:

UCD leads the series 45-20.

The first game was in 1954, won by UCD 14-0.

Sac State clinched its first winning season with a 26-0 win over UCD in 1957 in front of 1,897 fans.

The series needed a catchy name, so then-Sac State sports information director Mike Duncan in the early 1980s came up with “Causeway Classic” in recognition of the elevated highway over low-lying farmland that links Sacramento and Davis.

Before it was a “rivalry,” it was more of a ritual sacrifice, with UCD dancing over Sac State from 1970 through 1987 – 18 consecutive Aggies victories.

Sochor’s “favorite Causeway” was in 1970, when the Aggies prevailed 28-0 to snap a five-year skid to Sac State, leading the way to 18 successive conference titles for UCD. “That really set the tone for us,” he said years ago.

Sac State was not able to score an offensive touchdown against the Aggies from 1975 through 1979, outscored 311-49 from 1975 through 1983.

The series was so one-sided that Sochor said, “It’s not a rivarly until they beat us.”

Bob Mattos started 0-10 against UCD as the Hornets coach. He downplayed any resentment but the UCD losses boiled him. He became friends with Sochor, something both men cherished until their deaths. Mattos beat UCD twice in 1988 – in the regular season 31-28 and in the Division II playoffs, 35-14, the final game of Sochor’s decorated career. Said Mattos then, “saved my soul and my job.”

When Sac State went 1-10 in 1996, the victory was 27-24 over UCD.

In 2001, UCD routed Sac State 43-0, clinching the Aggies’ NCAA Division II record 32nd consecutive winning season.

Young flashback – In perhaps the most electrifying play in the series, Mark Young’s last-minute 53-yard catch-and-run across Toomey Field and into the end zone led to a 31-28 Sac State victory that halted the 18-game losing skid to the Aggies. Mattos recruited Young out of Sacramento City College specifically to have a game-breaker to “beat the Aggies.”

Follow The Bee’s Joe Davidson:, @SacBee_JoeD