If not for a miracle finish last Saturday in Portland, Ore., Sacramento State might have limped into this Saturday’s Causeway Classic against UC Davis at Hornet Stadium.
But after an improbable fourth-and-inches stop of one of the best running backs in the Big Sky Conference with 1:39 to play, followed by an 85-yard scoring drive with no timeouts engineered by quarterback Garrett Safron, the Hornets left Portland State in a hurry with a 43-42 victory.
It was only Sac State’s second win in Portland since 1986.
“We went up there and played a tough team and were able to hang together,” Sac State coach Marshall Sperbeck said. “Portland State had us on the ropes most of the game. But Garrett took us on a nice drive, and our receivers made some big plays that came at the right time.”
Safron, who rallied the Hornets (5-6, 4-3 Big Sky) from four 11-point deficits, completed 34 of 50 passes for a school-record 554 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 42 yards and two scores.
Safron’s 596 yards of total offense also set the school record, is second in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2013, fifth in Big Sky Conference history and 18th in FCS history. He was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
Receivers Morris Norrise, Shane Harrison and DeAndre Carter became the first Hornets trio to finish with more than 100 receiving yards each in a game.
It was one of the biggest wins in Sperbeck’s seven seasons with the Hornets, who might have been in contention for the playoffs except for three tough-luck losses.
They lost in overtime to FCS No. 5 Montana and No. 20 Southern Utah (a nonconference game) and lost by one point to No. 10 Northern Arizona, all at home.
The 51-48 loss to Montana on Nov. 2 was followed by a 42-7 blowout by host Cal Poly on Nov. 9, the Hornets’ worst outing since a 55-0 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 5. So beating a talented Portland State team on a three-game winning streak was a shocker to many.
“Any time you have a win like that, it’s special. It’s a lot of work by everybody,” Sperbeck said. “It just shows our players’ resiliency. They’ve done that all year.”
The Hornets had little time to celebrate after the win. Since they flew commercial instead of on a charter, they had to rush to the airport.
“The players didn’t have time to shower, and traffic was a little slow because of an accident,” Sperbeck said. “But we made it there at 5:50, and that’s when the plane was scheduled to leave.”
The backup plan?
“There was none,” Sperbeck said. “We kept saying we’re going to make it.”
Motivation not a factor – It isn’t going to take much to motivate Sac State’s seniors for Saturday’s game; they’ve been on the losing end of three very close games with UCD (4-7, 4-3).
“This is our last chance,” said Norrise, who will be playing in his fourth Causeway Classic. “No disrespect to Davis, but we feel it’s our mistakes that cost us in those games. Our goal is to play smart football. If we do that, we think we’ll win.”
Sperbeck said what’s happened in the past doesn’t mean much, especially since Ron Gould replaced longtime Aggies coach Bob Biggs after last season.
“Anytime you have a different coach, you are going to have a different team,” Sperbeck said. “I’m sure Ron has his own way about himself that’s different than Bob’s. We have to prepare for who we are seeing; this is a different Davis team in that regard.”
Et cetera – Prior to Saturday’s game, Sacramento State will honor 12 seniors playing their final game for the Hornets, including past all-conference selections Norrise, Todd Davis, Osagie Odiase and Tyler Worthley.
• The Causeway Classic has drawn 554,906 fans during the past 59 years, according to Sac State media relations director Brian Berger. Sac State’s two largest football crowds have come against UC Davis – 20,993 in 1999 and 17,328 in 2001.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.