Osagie Odiase was a marked man Saturday. He was picked on. Bullied even.
But the Sacramento State junior defensive back didn't back down. He made an interception, recovered a fumble, broke up three passes and led the Hornets with a career-high 11 tackles in their home-opening 28-17 victory over Northern Colorado.
"I love it when they throw my way," Odiase said. "I just have to be resilient out there. But I have to give a lot of credit to my (defensive) line. Their pressure on the quarterback helps me out."
The Hornets made only two sacks but didn't allow an offensive touchdown until Tromaine Dennis scored on a one-yard run with 8:11 to play. The Bears' other touchdown came on Dominic Gunn's 74-yard punt return in the second quarter.
Sac State's defensive front applied plenty of pressure that helped force three interceptions and a fumble.
"Defensively, I felt we did a nice job and kept them out of the end zone (until late)," Hornets coach Marshall Sperbeck said. "I think we got our run game going, and when it's 105 or 110 degrees on the field, it has to be a factor."
Several Bears players said afterward that it has been in the high 80s and 90s back home in Greeley, Colo., so the heat wasn't as much of a factor.
The weather was a far cry from the teams' meeting last season at Northern Colorado. Sac State won 14-0 in a torrential downpour. The conditions were so bad, the Hornets did not attempt a pass.
Sac State scored one touchdown in each quarter to improve to 2-1.
Even though Northern Colorado (1-2) is in the Big Sky Conference, the game was deemed to be nonconference. Both teams had an open date, and the Big Sky allowed the teams to fill it.
This is the first time Sac State has been 2-1 without beating a Division II team since 2001. The Hornets beat Saint Mary's and Idaho State that year but finished 2-9.
Hornets quarterback Garrett Safron was held to 177 passing yards on 16-for-30 accuracy. It was the first time this season he hadn't thrown for more than 300 yards in a game.
But Safron did have a 40-yard scoring pass to Morris Norrise and a 14-yarder to DeAndre Carter to help the Hornets go ahead 21-10 midway through the third quarter.
Safron's strike to Norrise came on Sac State's first play from scrimmage.
"We always go into the game with one play in mind," Safron said of his beautiful floater over Norrise's left shoulder down the middle against man coverage. "We felt the post would be open on the back side, and it was."
Norisse finished with four catches for 61 yards, both team highs.
The Bears led 10-7 early in the second quarter after their punt return touchdown. But they lost the lead for good when the Hornets drove 48 yards aided by two personal fouls on linebacker Herve Tonye-Tonye. The first came after the Hornets faced third and 18 from their own 44.
Sam McCowan capped the drive with a six-yard touchdown run. Northern Colorado had nine penalties for 92 yards in the second quarter.
"We did give up a touchdown with two personal fouls when we had them down third and 18," said Bears coach Earnest Collins Jr. His team, which was 0-11 in 2011, finished with 11 penalties for 117 yards.
Sac State was called for nine penalties for 82 yards and gave Northern Colorado five first downs on penalties.
Ezekiel Graham scored the Hornets' last touchdown on a two-yard run early in the fourth quarter. Graham, who ran for 98 yards on 21 carries, said it was getting pretty chippy on the field with both teams jawing at each other.
And in the middle of it all was Odiase.
"Osagie did a heck of job out there," Sperbeck said. "He's a good corner, and if they want to come at him, fine."