Causeway Classic looms large for locals

Hornets look to go out on top while Aggies seek revenge in preparation for playoffs
By: Ray Hacke Journal Sports Writer
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Sacramento State seniors Brian Heath and Bill Sherman have a chance to go out on a winning note. UC Davis juniors Greg Denham and Danny Hart have a chance to garner a little payback. Either way, the local players on both sides of the Sacramento region’s college football rivalry will be plenty motivated to win this Saturday’s Causeway Classic at Sac State’s Hornet Stadium. The last game of the regular season will be the last, period, for Heath and Sherman, who have been teammates since their days at Del Oro High. Unlike UC Davis (6-4), Sac State (4-6) is not headed for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs. “I don’t plan on losing our last game by any means,” said Sherman, who anchors the Hornets’ defensive line at nose tackle. “It’s not just that it’s our last game, it’s UC Davis. This will make or break our season.” Last season Sherman and Heath helped the Hornets (4-6) end an eight-year losing streak against the Aggies (6-4). UC Davis is still comfortably ahead in the all-time series, however, at 39-17, and Denham and Hart will undoubtedly be looking to help the Aggies get that milestone 40th victory. The end of the eight-year streak “intensifies the rivalry a lot more,” said Heath, Sac State’s starting tight end and long snapper. “It sets up a bigger stage. Last year we won, and that fires up the UC Davis people who want to see their team win, and it also fires up the Sac State people who want to see the game move in our direction.” UC Davis secured its spot in the FCS playoffs last Saturday, clinching the Great West Conference title with a home victory over North Dakota. Denham, a Placer High graduate, threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns in that win. Now in his second season as UC Davis’ starting quarterback, Denham hasn’t obliterated the school records he set last year — he has thrown for just 2,625 yards and 17 touchdowns, as opposed to 3,478 and 27 in 2008 — but he has cut his interception total in half from 16 to eight. More importantly, Denham has rallied the Aggies to five wins in their last six games after a 1-3 start that included losses to two unbeaten powerhouses — Montana, ranked No. 1 in the FCS, and Boise State, ranked No. 6 among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. “That’s the maturation process of a quarterback,” UC Davis coach Bob Biggs said. “He’s got so many snaps under his belt now, he’s had more opportunities to play in big games and get better. “Last year Greg forced the ball a lot down in the red zone. He’s not doing that this year. He’s also seeing the field a lot better. He’s more patient at the line of scrimmage. All of those things have played a role in his success this year.” Heath thinks, “I’ll be covered a lot by Danny Hart,” his former Del Oro teammate, when Sac State is on offense. Hart, UC Davis’ starting free safety, is second on the Aggies in tackles with 50 (28 of them solo). Heath, used primarily as a blocking tight end last season, has been given more chances to make plays this year, catching 11 passes for 114 yards and two TDs, one of which came last week in a 27-17 loss at Montana State. “Last year we ran into each other, and he said a few words on the field,” Heath said. “But our friendship keeps going. We laughed about it afterward.” Heath and Sherman were used to playing for winning teams at Del Oro, including a section champion in 2005. At Sac State, they’ve finished at .500 just once in four years. Still, a win in the Causeway Classic could create a memory that long outlasts any memories of the Hornets’ struggles. “I hope we have a chance to do something real special for our seniors and all the hard work they’ve done to try and turn this program around,” Heath said. “Last week we decided to put everything we had into (Saturday),” Sherman added. “If you beat Davis, you can’t complain.”