Ailene Voisin, sports columnist
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  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    Sacramento State's T.J. Knowles, left, and Lars Hanson walk off the field after the team's loss.

  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    Montana State's Joel Fuller intercepts a pass intended for Sac State's Blake Robertson to end the Hornets' final drive.

  • BRIAN BAER / Special to The Bee

    Sacramento State defensive lineman Matt Lawrence hits Montana State quarterback DeNarius McGhee, forcing an incomplete pass Saturday at Hornet Stadium.

  • Ailene Voisin

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Ailene Voisin: Hornets can only blame themselves

Published: Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012 - 11:00 pm | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 - 12:09 am

One of these days, one of these years, one of these decades, it will happen. The Sacramento State Hornets will make the big plays, avoid the brutal turnovers and stun the opposition.

The sting – and the string – can't last forever.

Can it?

Sac State came so close to upsetting third-ranked Montana State, to securing the program's best record since 2000, to demanding attention and significantly enhancing prospects for a first playoff berth since 1988, that the late mistakes Saturday will make for a particularly miserable Sunday morning.

"Against a team like this, in a game that is so closely fought, that's usually the difference in the game," a visibly disappointed coach Marshall Sperbeck said after the 20-17 loss to the visiting Bobcats. "It's the turnovers."

There were plenty of other contributing factors in this latest heartbreaker at Hornet Stadium, among them T.J. Knowles' apparent touchdown that was disallowed in the first quarter; a crack-back penalty assessed to Ezekiel Graham that stalled a potentially clinching drive; Sperbeck's ensuing gamble on a 53-yard field-goal attempt by Edward Ruhnke; the elusive scampering of Bobcats quarterback DeNarius McGhee; and the constant, bruising presence of Montana State running back Cody Kirk.

The 5-foot-10 Kirk ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns, and he plowed right through an otherwise stingy defense for the final and deciding score.

"He definitely keeps his legs running after contact," said Sac State linebacker Todd Davis, "and is definitely a person somebody has to gang tackle."

The Hornets nonetheless had their chances against a Big Sky Conference opponent that has been ranked in the top 10 for the past 24 weeks, seizing a 17-13 lead and the momentum after quarterback Garrett Safron found wideout Morris Norrise for a 76-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

When the 5-11, 180-pound Norrise turned and outleaped a defender for the ball near the right sideline, then bolted for the end zone, the game gained the feel of a feel-good, perhaps even historic Sac State ending: A victory would have improved the Hornets to 7-3, guaranteeing an especially compelling Causeway Classic finale in two weeks and thrusting Sperbeck's club into the postseason conversation.

"Seven wins has always been the barometer," noted Hornets athletic director Terry Wanless. "But it depends on how people around you are doing, so you just can't predict."

And the playoff drought has been how long now? Does anyone even remember 1988? The last time the Hornets competed in a postseason, the program was Division II. Ronald Reagan was president. Postage stamps were 24 cents. The Dodgers defeated the A's for their last World Series title.

Ben Johnson won the 100 meters at the Seoul Olympics and lost his gold medal after testing positive for steroids. Steffi Graf became the third woman to win the Grand Slam.

Even more recently, this is easily the best Sac State squad since the dynamic and diminutive Charles Roberts ended his college career in 2000.

Since, the victories have been few; this will be only the Hornets' second winning season since Roberts graduated to the CFL, with Sperbeck in his six seasons improving the program to 6-6 in 2008 and 6-5 in 2010.

So, for sure, for long-suffering Hornets fans, this one hurt. Those four second-half turnovers. That bizarre team fumble on an end-over-end line-drive punt. That bobble by Saffron. The two interceptions thrown by the sophomore, who passed for 303 yards and four touchdowns in last week's upset of No. 11 Cal Poly and already has surpassed expectations.

Now it's on to the Aggies for a rivalry game that features the coaching finale of Bob Biggs.

"They're all big (games)," said a visibly disapppointed Sperbeck. "We'll just see how it all (playoffs) shakes out."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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