North Dakota coach Bubba Schweigert said he expects to face a confident Sacramento State team on Saturday, when his Big Sky Conference co-leading Fighting Hawks play at Hornet Stadium.
“The scoreboard tells you how you feel,” Schweigert said. “It gives you confidence and makes you feel better about yourself. I’m sure they are feeling good about themselves.”
Sac State is coming off one of its greatest comeback victories. The Hornets (1-4, 1-1) scored 20 fourth-quarter points – highlighted by Jaelin Ratliff’s game-winning catch from Nate Ketteringham with 15 seconds to play – to rally past Montana State 41-38 last Saturday at Hornet Stadium.
It marked only the fourth time since moving to Division I in 1993 that the Hornets won a game in the final minute of regulation, and it came against a Montana State defense that ranked No. 1 in the FCS.
“The kids showed a lot of resiliency, a lot of heart,” said Sac State coach Jody Sears. “It wasn’t surprising to me. I see these kids come to work every day, so I was really, really happy for them to be able to taste the fruit of their hard work.”
Schweigert said Sac State has improved every week, especially offensively. The Hornets have scored 83 points in their first two Big Sky games, and they ran 94 offensive plays and tied a school record for first downs in a game with 34 against Montana State.
Schweigert credits the Hornets’ offensive line for giving Ketteringham the time to be a threat with his arm and his legs.
“They really protected him well the last couple of weeks, and he throws all the balls you have to have to be a good throwing team,” Schweigert said. “He’s able to throw the underneath throws, able to throw the deep ball. The touchdown throw was really impressive and that catch was really impressive to win that game last week.”
No. 24 North Dakota (3-2, 2-0) started its conference season with a 17-15 win at Montana State, then beat Cal Poly 31-24 in Grand Forks, N.D., last Saturday.
The Fighting Hawks feature a punishing rushing attack, which has been a challenging element for Sac State’s young defense this season. The Hornets have allowed 215 rushing yards per game, including 385 by Montana State.
“They are very physical; they are going to pound you,” Sears said of North Dakota. “They’re going to get in two backs, two tight ends, get into two backs, one tight end, and they are going to come at you with a very good fullback and a really good offensive line.”
Saturday’s game is homecoming for the Hornets, who are 7-3 in those games. They beat Idaho State last season on homecoming, taking advantage of five interceptions.
Aggies to see familiar face – UC Davis will take on an Aggie alum when it plays at defending Big Sky champion Southern Utah on Saturday.
Former UCD player Demario Warren is the first-year head coach at Southern Utah after serving as the Thunderbirds’ defensive coordinator the last two seasons. Warren was a running back from 2005 to 2007 for the Aggies.
“It’s always special to play those guys,” Warren said. “I had a great coach in coach (Bob) Biggs when I was there, had a great time there, and it really shaped me as a person.”
UCD still seeks its first conference win.
The Aggies had a 23-14 halftime lead over No. 4 Eastern Washington last Saturday in Cheney, Wash., before falling 63-30. Eagles wide receiver Cooper Kupp became the FCS’ all-time leader in receiving yards with 12 catches for 274 yards and two touchdowns.
“We’ve got to learn to play four quarters,” said UCD coach Ron Gould.
Senior running back Manusamoa Luuga continued his impact season for the Aggies with a career-high 212 all-purpose yards and career-tying three touchdowns. Luuga has seven rushing touchdowns on the season, sixth best in the FCS.
“The young man is a warrior,” Gould said. “He’s a complete back in my eyes.”