Twenty-five years later, and it’s still with him.
The game, the play, the outcome, the significance all resonate deeply.
Mark Young forever will be linked to his signature football moment in the Causeway Classic, and the former wide receiver is OK with that. He was the one dashing across Toomey Field for Sacramento State in 1988, catching a third-down pass with time running out and slipping past surprised UC Davis defenders into the end zone. That effort, with just over a minute to play, provided the hard-luck Hornets a 31-28 triumph, halting an 18-game losing streak to the Aggies. Young will join a collection of former teammates in a suite today at Hornet Stadium for the 60th Causeway Classic against UC Davis, and the memories will flow.
Young’s 53-yard score was the turning point of the series. It has been called by scores of observers the most electrifying play of the rivalry and perhaps the most meaningful. Before that September game, UC Davis coach Jim Sochor joked, “There’s no rivalry until they beat us.”
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After absorbing that loss, Sochor conceded, “It’s officially a rivalry now.”
For good measure, Sac State beat UC Davis in the Division II playoffs later that season 35-14, also in Yolo County, in Sochor’s last game. Young dazzled in that one, too, pulling in a 75-yard touchdown strike from Tony Trosin and scoring on a reverse. He said then he had been waiting to “show off my shake and bake.”
Now 47 and looking fit enough to go another four quarters, Young said he cherishes his experiences at Sac State that led to a career as a paraeducator in the Elk Grove Unified School District.
“Oh my, I can’t believe it’s been that long, but it’s fresh,” Young said excitedly. “I’ll always be linked to that game, but I really feel great for what it did for our teammates and our coach.”
The coach was Bob Mattos, known for his scowl, for embracing players as if they were his sons and for his patience. Mattos lost his first 10 Causeway Classics, enduring heartache and ulcers, and he later admitted that “(losses to UC Davis) tore my soul to bits every time.” The late coach said the breakthrough victory over the Aggies “kept me employed and sane.” Mattos said he specifically recruited Young, a former standout at Cordova High School and Sacramento City College, to beat UC Davis.
Mattos watched his final Causeway Classic in 2009, tearing up at the images on the wide screen in his Wilton home. Sac State rallied to beat UC Davis 31-28 – the same score of the first 1988 contest. Mattos died months later of brain cancer at 68.
That was the second major personal setback for Young. His father, Morris, a career educator, died in 1999.
“I lost the two most important men in my life, and I still miss them,” Young said.
Young played for Mattos in 1986 but was declared academically ineligible for the 1987 season. It crushed him to let his father and coach down.
“The most vivid memory I have of coach Mattos was when I found out I was ineligible,” Young said. “I didn’t want to go to school, I was so embarrassed. But he talked to me, a stern lecture. He didn’t shout, but I cried. I told him I’d make it up to him. And we got two wins over Davis, so I think I did.”
After Sac State’s first victory over UC Davis in 1988, Mattos was carried off the field, the decade of losses swept away. When Mattos and Young were preparing for a TV interview amid a sea of Sac State players, students and fans, they embraced and wept.
“I was so emotional, and I was so happy for Mattos because it was such a struggle for Sac State against Davis for so long, and he deserved all the credit,” Young said.
Young was the difference in the postseason rematch, and Mattos again was carried off the field. Afterward, then-Sac State President Donald Gerth giddily wheeled a hand truck of pizzas into the Hornets’ locker room. The Hornets had won the second of five consecutive victories over their rivals. Sac State’s 1988 season ended with a semifinal loss to eventual champion North Dakota State in frigid Fargo, N.D. The Hornets haven’t tasted the postseason since.
“What a year, what a time,” Young said. “We were down late that first game to Davis, I fumbled the ball earlier out of bounds, and then the rest was history.”