T.J. Knowles was feeling like the goat. His Sacramento State teammates had just converted a fake punt, had the ball on the Weber State 33 and were hanging onto a five-point lead in the fourth quarter Saturday at Hornets Stadium.
The 6-foot-8 senior wide receiver caught a short pass from Garret Safron, turned upfield and collided with a Weber State defender, whose helmet dislodged the ball. The Wildcats pounced on it.
But Knowles' teammates helped lift his spirits with an interception by Osagie Odiase.
Six plays later, Safron passed to Knowles for a game-winning 25-yard touchdown to lead the Hornets to a 19-14 Big Sky Conference win over Weber State.
Safron completed 21 of 26 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns. His best pass of the night was the clincher he delivered to Knowles.
"I just wanted to secure the ball and, man, I felt better after that," said Knowles, who only had one catch last season because of injury.
"They were bringing their safeties up and we knew they would bite on the play action. I read the safety, saw that he was running up and just hit the corner, planted and got open."
The Hornets are 5-2 for the first time since 1992, the last season they played as an NCAA Division II team.
Helping that record is the Hornets' 3-1 road mark, with consecutive wins over Colorado, Idaho State and last week at Southern Utah. The last time the Hornets (3-1 Big Sky) won three straight on the road was 1991, and that team finished 8-2.
Hornets' special teams played a key role in the victory over Weber State, head coach Marshall Sperbeck said.
With the score 7-7, Sac State put in backup quarterback Mason Magleby to punt. He rolled out to his right on a fourth-and-2 from his 47-yard line, felt some pressure and kicked the ball on the run. The ball rolled toward the end zone and died on the 1-yard line of Weber State (0-7, 0-4).
Sac State's defense held and the snap to punter Tyler McNanny sailed over his head and out of the end zone for a safety. Edgar Castaneda added a 22-yard field goal to put the Hornets ahead 12-7.
"That punt changed field position and changed the momentum," Sperbeck said. "Magleby showed he's an excellent punter as well."
The Hornets now enter their toughest stretch of the season. Beginning next Saturday, they will meet No. 6 Eastern Washington on the road, followed by home games against No. 14 Cal Poly and No. 2 Montana State.
Eastern Washington could be ranked No. 1 after knocking off Montana State 27-24 on the road.
No. 1 and defending NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national champion North Dakota State also lost (17-14 to Indiana State).
When Sperbeck was reminded of his team's immediate three-game future (before ending the regular season with the Causeway Classic at UC Davis), he nodded while frowning.
But he caught himself before commenting on the four-game final stretch.
"We have Eastern Washington next week." Sperbeck said. "Let's talk about that game."