College Sports

First Causeway Classic memories still vivid for pair of crosstown rivals

Sacramento State linebacker Henry Fernandez (48) tackles UC Davis running back Josh Reese during the 2011 Causeway Classic.
Sacramento State linebacker Henry Fernandez (48) tackles UC Davis running back Josh Reese during the 2011 Causeway Classic. Sacramento Bee file

Their first Causeway Classic left indelible memories for senior linebackers Henry Fernandez of Sacramento State and Steven Pitts of UC Davis, even though they hadn’t stepped on the field for the annual rivalry game.

As an Oxnard High School senior in 2009, Fernandez watched Brandyn Reed catch a 13-yard touchdown pass from McLeod Bethel-Thompson with 20 seconds to play to rally Sac State to a 31-28 victory over the stunned Aggies in front of more than 17,000 fans at Hornet Stadium.

“It was a crazy game,” Fernandez said. “I drove up with some friends on an unofficial visit and sat in the stands. I remember the huge crowd, the winning drive, the atmosphere and thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’”

As a freshman in 2010, Pitts was on the sideline at Aggie Stadium when UCD’s Jonathan Perkins intercepted Bethel-Thompson’s pass on the Aggies’ 11-yard line with 21 seconds to play to preserve a 17-16 win in a downpour – a game some call the “Monsoon Game.”

“They had a lightning delay and we came out in the second half and the stands were empty,” Pitts said. “The tunnels were so flooded we had to come down through the stands. It was a close game the whole time, and despite the conditions, it was a fun game. It just set the tone for what a rivalry is all about.”

Pitts and Fernandez won’t be watching Saturday’s 61st annual Causeway Classic at Aggie Stadium. They are the leaders of maligned defenses that have played better in recent weeks. Pitts will try to help the Aggies extend their winning streak in the series to five games. Fernandez is one of 18 Hornets seniors who hope to leave with one Causeway victory.

The Aggies’ defense lost free safety Charles Boyett and linebacker Ryan Dimino to season-ending injuries, and Pitts missed three games before returning for the last two, a bruising 23-21 loss at Northern Arizona on Nov. 8 and Saturday’s 48-35 upset of Cal Poly that ended a seven-game losing streak. Pitts had nine tackles and broke up a pass against the Mustangs.

In the 2012 Causeway Classic, Pitts recovered a Sac State fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in a 34-27 win at UCD that sent coach Bob Biggs into retirement on a winning note. Last year, Pitts had a team-leading 13 tackles, 31/2 for losses, in the Aggies’ 34-7 win, one of the rare blowouts in recent years.

“One year it’s the offense, one year the defense steps up, and one year it’s special teams,” Pitts said. “We always find a way to win this game.”

Sac State coach Jody Sears calls Fernandez the “bell cow” of a Hornets’ defense that lost linebacker Darnell Sankey to a knee injury in an Oct. 18 homecoming loss to Cal Poly.

Without the fleet-footed, 250-pound Sankey, who is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game, Fernandez and former Del Oro High School standouts Russell Smith and Tyler Meteer helped the Hornets beat Southern Utah and Portland State at Hornet Stadium the last two weeks to improve to 6-5.

A victory Saturday would give the Hornets their second seven-win season since 2000.

“If we get this win, we’re one of 19 teams to ever beat Davis in the Causeway, and that’s a big deal for the program, for the school and for the city,” Fernandez said.

Fernandez, who redshirted last season, played in the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Causeway games, all losses.

“I think those games came down to not being able to finish,” Fernandez said. “Really, in the end, there is nothing complex about it. You’ve got to do your job to get the ‘W.’”

Fernandez and Pitts have mixed emotions about this week. While they are preparing for their biggest game of the year, they also realize it will be their last college game.

“It is a little bittersweet, knowing this is it,” Fernandez said. “The biggest thing is that I’m having fun and enjoying these last few days. At the end of the day, football is a game we all play because we love it. It’s just a little better because it’s a rivalry game.”

Pitts seconded that sentiment.

“It’s the last year, the last week, the last game, and you couldn’t have a better team to play than Sac State,” Pitts said. “For me, it’s nice because my family is coming to see me play, and it’s at our place and in front of our Aggie fans.”

Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

THE PARTICULARS

▪ Who: Sacramento State vs. UC Davis

▪ When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

▪ Where: Aggie Stadium

▪ TV: CSNCA

▪ Radio: 1140, 1380

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