Growing up, C.J. Spencer used to come to Sacramento State football games and dream about throwing touchdown passes at expansive Hornet Stadium.
The UC Davis redshirt freshman quarterback from Inderkum High School in Natomas fulfilled his dream Saturday afternoon.
Spencer threw for a career-high 312 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for a 13-yard score, leading the Aggies to a 35-21 win over the Hornets in the 62nd annual Causeway Classic.
The win enabled the Aggies (2-9, 2-6 Big Sky Conference) to finish on a high in an otherwise disappointing season.
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UCD compiled a season-high 523 yards and had scoring drives of 76, 58, 94, 95 and 80 yards.
Junior Manusamoa Luuga rushed for a career-high 117 yards on 24 carries and had a receiving touchdown, true freshman Joshua Kelley added 71 rushing yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, and the Aggies rushed for a season-high 211 yards.
But Spencer, starting only his third game since replacing injured Ben Scott, was the show. He became the first UCD quarterback since Greg Denham in 2008 to have back-to-back 300-yard passing games. Spencer threw for 311 yards last week in a 55-38 loss to Cal Poly.
“I came to the Causeway Classic and a lot of Sac State games, so it was cool to be on the other side and to be out there playing,” said Spencer, who had family and friends among the announced crowd of 10,237. “ ... It was a humbling moment.”
UC Davis senior tackle Parker Smith called Spencer’s performance “awesome.”
“It’s always fun looking up and seeing that the ball is deep and in someone’s hands,” Smith said. “It’s been fun to watch him out there and see how quickly he matured in the last three games.”
UC Davis coach Ron Gould marveled at the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Spencer’s improvement since he became the starter Nov. 7 against Weber State.
“I told C.J. he has something really special,” Gould said. “He has something inside of him – this burning desire to will things to happen. When plays break down, that is when he is at his best. He is brilliant.”
He was particularly brilliant after the Hornets cut a 21-0 halftime deficit to 21-14 with 5:20 to play in the third quarter.
Sac State safety Austin Clark forced Kelley to fumble at the Aggies’ 32, resulting in a seven-yard Nathan Ketteringham-to-Shane Harrison touchdown pass to make it 21-7. Then Garrett Steele blocked a UCD punt that Tyler Meteer returned for a 43-yard touchdown, trimming the Aggies’ lead to 21-14.
Shortly after, a Smith Heath punt pinned the Aggies at their 5-yard line.
Then Spencer and the Aggies’ offense responded. They carved through Sac State’s defense in five plays to score on Spencer’s 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nehemiah Winston with 1:03 remaining in the third quarter.
After UCD forced the Hornets to punt, Spencer led the Aggies on another mammoth march, this time 80 yards in 15 plays that ate up 7:32. Kelley finished with a three-yard touchdown run with 6:21 left in the game. The Hornets scored a touchdown with 4:15 to play and recovered an onside kick, but the Aggies held them off.
“We weren’t good enough on defense,” said Sac State coach Jody Sears. “You’ve got to tip your hat to Davis. They did a nice job of sustaining drives. We couldn’t get off the field; that was the difference.”
Even big games from senior linebacker Darnell Sankey as well as Clark, a sophomore, weren’t enough for the Hornets (2-9, 1-7). Sankey had 17 tackles, leaving him one short of the school season record of 154 held by Ryland Wickman. In addition to forcing the fumble, Clark had 14 tackles, including two for losses.
“We just didn’t execute as a defense,” Sankey said. “They ran the ball down our throat.”