College Sports

Newly ranked Sac State faces another Top 10 Montana foe; UC Davis seeks two in a row

Sacramento State running back Elijah Dotson has the attention of Montana coach Bobby Hauck, who says, “I’ve got a really high opinion of him.”
Sacramento State running back Elijah Dotson has the attention of Montana coach Bobby Hauck, who says, “I’ve got a really high opinion of him.”

Bobby Hauck knows all about Sacramento State, the players, the program ascent and the trap door that potentially awaits.

The Montana coach leads his Grizzlies, ranked fifth in the STATS Football Championship Subdivision poll, into Hornet Stadium on Homecoming night, aware of what is at stake.

For starters on Saturday, there is the matter of first place in the Big Sky Conference, the best collection of teams in the FCS, formerly known as Division I-AA. Montana is 5-0 and No. 15 Sac State is 4-2. The teams are a combined 8-0 against FCS competition.

Montana beat Sac State 41-34 last season in Missoula despite a career effort by Hornets running back Elijah Dotson, who rushed for 234 yards on 30 carries and had scoring runs of 59, 1 and 66 yards. Dotson is still with Sac State, still a swift runner who is the team’s leading receiver this season with 39 catches. He also has the longest touchdown play: 88 yards.

“I was scared to death of them a year ago when we played them,” Hauck said during his Monday news conference. “Obviously, stringing together a few wins is healthy in terms of your program. We’ve got a team that’s on a roll right now that we’ve got to go down and try to beat on their home field.

“Sacramento State is a very hot team right now. They’re playing well in all three phases of the game. They’re statistically impressive. They’ve done a lot of good things.”

He added of the Hornets running back: “Dotson is terrific. I think he may be the best running back in the league. I’ve got a really high opinion of him.”

Sac State is 3-0 at home this season but is 1-20 all time against the Grizzlies in 23 years of Big Sky action, including 1-9 at Hornet Stadium. The lone victory was a 42-28 effort in 2011, when Sac State was last ranked.

This meeting will pit standout quarterbacks who happen to be friends: Sac State’s Kevin Thomson and Montana’s Dalton Sneed. They were teammates at UNLV in 2014, brought in by Hauck when he coached there. Hauck is in his second tour at Montana, having won seven successive Big Sky titles from 2003-09.

Thomson has overcome injuries, starting at UNLV and into last season at Sac State, to produce his best season in his three years as a starter. He has tossed 19 touchdowns and run for five, including five total scores to lead Sac State past then No. 6 Montana State last week for the program’s first win in Bozeman since 1991, when the Hornets were quarterbacked by Bobby Fresques, now Thomson’s position coach.

Sneed has passed for 15 touchdowns and run for three this season.

“He’s a good guy, a good player,” Thomson said of Sneed.

Sneed dazzled in his last regional visit, taking UC Davis apart for 268 yards and five touchdowns without an interception in a 45-20 road victory last month.

Sneed passed for 234 yards and a touchdown, and ran for a remarkable 206 and two scores, in the win over Sac State in 2018, including a 75-yarder. Thomson passed for 259 yards and had a 77-yard touchdown strike in that contest.

Saturday is something of a homecoming for two Sac State assistant coaches in defensive line mentor Kraig Paulson and defensive coordinator Andy Thompson, whose unit leads the Big Sky in red-zone defense, rush defense, scoring defense sacks and tackles for loss.

On offense, Sac State is second in scoring and fourth in total offense and passing under first-year coach Troy Taylor.

“Kraig Paulson has their D-line playing great,” Hauck said. “They’re getting after folks. Andy Thompson is obviously a familiar face and name for us. Andy’s got them flying around and playing well. They’re just doing a lot of good things. They get after you on defense. They’re not afraid to man you up. In fact, I think that’s their preference probably.”

UC Davis road warriors

If UC Davis wants to notch consecutive wins, it’ll have to do it away from their fans.

The No. 23 Aggies (3-4, 1-1) visit Southern Utah (1-6, 0-3) on Saturday.

UC Davis stormed to a 34-0 lead at home last week against Cal Poly and prevailed 48-24 to halt a three-game skid as Jake Maier passed for 378 yards and four touchdowns.

“These guys play their best football when they’re up against it, which says something about their character and their resolve and their belief,” UCD coach Dan Hawkins said.

UCD and Southern Utah first played in 1993, when the programs shared the inaugural American West Conference championship.

The Thunderbirds are coached by Demario Warren, a one-time tailback at UCD (2005-07).

Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.