After last week’s game at Cal, Sacramento State defensive coordinator Andy Thompson challenged players he supervises to up their game, to play to their ability, to make stops.
In the wide-open, high-scoring Big Sky Conference where defenses often get stretched or shattered, the Hornets made a defensive stand Saturday afternoon in the Holt Arena in Pocatello to save a game they had to have to salvage the early season.
Marte Mapu made an interception at Sac State’s 30-yard line with 1:14 to play , and the Hornets ran out the clock on two quarterback keeps by Asher O’Hara to seal a 23-21 victory over Idaho State in a conference opener.
Sac State evened its record at 2-2, having lost at 25-point favorite Cal 42-30 last week in a game that frustrated defenders because of what they deemed missed opportunities to make defensive stands.
That’s ancient history now, especially after the Hornets pitched a second-half shutout while Kyle Sentowski drilled three second-half field goals for the winners, including a career-best 49-yarder to pull the Hornets to within 21-17 in the third quarter. Sac State outgained Idaho State 442-281 and scored first when Jake Dunniway hit Marcus Fulcher for a 60-yard play, the longest play from scrimmage for the Hornets this season.
The Hornets made it 14-7 on a fourth-down trick play as Lucas Triplett hit O’Hara the quarterback for a touchdown to cap a 94-yard drive.
Idaho State’s Tyler Vander Waal was knocked out of the game in the second quarter on a crushing hit. The Sacramento-area product who attended Elk Grove and Christian Brothers high schools and has known Sac State coach Troy Taylor through passing academies over the years, hit Benjamin Omayebu for a 39-yard touchdown. Idaho State is 0-3.
Dunniway passed for 302 yards on 18 of 30 passing for Sac State and O’Hara went for 34 on 4 of 7 passes. Tyler Hardeman led Sac State with nine tackles, Marcus Hawkins eight and Mapu seven.
Said Taylor afterward of savoring any win, “They’re all rewarding. That was a pretty gritty win. Proud of our guys. They always believed and found a way to win. ... We never let them get into field goal range to win it.”
Sac State has a bye next week and hosts Southern Utah on Oct. 9 at Hornet Stadium.