There was no way DeAndre Carter was going to raise his right hand and signal for a fair catch Saturday night. Not in his final home game for the Sacramento State Hornets, not with the game tied 41-41 with a little more than three minutes left against the Portland State Vikings, and certainly not with his teammates hoping – no, needing – the senior wide receiver to make a play.
So Carter gathered a low fluttering duck from Vikings punter Kyle Loomis, who leads the Football Championship Subdivision in punting, looked right from his own 45 yard line, caught a great block on the left edge of the Hornets’ wedge, broke to the second level, picked up another key block downfield and returned the ball 65 yards for the game-winner.
Carter’s score broke the Vikings’ heart and gave the Hornets a wild 48-41 victory. The Hornets scored 17 unanswered points and improved to 6-5 overall and 3-4 in Big Sky Conference play. Portland State, with Jesuit High alum Nigel Burton as head coach, fell to 3-8 overall and 2-5 in the Big Sky.
“Coach (special teams coach Bill Laveroni) called a great return play, I got some great blocks and it was there,” Carter said. “I was not going to fair catch this one. I had to make a play. So I put the gas on.”
It’s been more than four years since a Hornets player has returned a punt for a touchdown. Carter isn’t known for his special teams prowess. The touchdown was only his fourth return of the season. He’s back there as a “hands” guy. But when he does “put the gas on,” he certainly goes.
Carter and quarterback Garrett Safron have been the most prolific quarterback-wide receiver combination in Sacramento State football history.
Carter caught eight Safron passes for 134 yards with a touchdown catch. Carter became the Hornets single-season reception leader on a 61-yard touchdown bomb from Safron that gave the Hornets a 24-17 lead midway through the second quarter. It was his 84th catch of the season, eclipsing the mark set by Tony Washington in 2008.
“Me and G (Garrett Safron) work hard every day,” Carter said. “The work we put in, man, he’s my brother. I love him to death.”
All this came a week after Carter was named Football Championship Subdivision and Big Sky Conference Player of the Week for his 16-pass, 273-yard performance against Southern Utah in the Hornets’ 42-21 victory.
His 34 career touchdown catches, also a school record, have all been thrown by Safron, the former walk-on from Santa Monica, who has rewritten the Hornets record book as well.
Safron leads the Football Championship Subdivision in total offense with 3,202 passing yards and 707rushing yards. He has 34 total touchdowns. He finished the game 19-of-40 for 290 yards and three touchdowns, two to receiver Nmamdi Agude including a beautiful, 31-yard, over-the-shoulder pass and catch that cut Portland State’s lead to 41-38.
But it’s that special relationship he’s nurtured with Carter that had Safron almost wistful Saturday night, knowing that it was the last time the two would play together at Hornet Stadium.
“(Carter) is a big-time player,” Safron said. “I hang out with him a lot, more than I do with my girlfriend. But she gets it.”
The home game Saturday was the last for 18 Hornets seniors, who were honored before the game for their contributions to the program. Included in that special ceremony was defensive back Mike Sellers, whose interception of Vikings freshman quarterback Josh Kraght late in the third quarter completely changed the game’s momentum. Sellers stepped in front of Vikings receiver at his own 18-yard line and returned the interception to the Hornets’ 40. Sellers, a fifth-year senior from Hawaii, has played sparingly on defense and was playing in the secondary only because senior Robbie Kendall hurt his ankle on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
Carter, Safron, Sellers and Kendall – along with the other 14 seniors – end their collegiate careers next week at UC Davis in the annual Causeway Classic. The Aggies beat the Hornets 34-7 last season.
New Hornets Head Coach Jody Sears knows how special the rivalry game is and said he’s is looking forward to it. Sears played for Washington State in several Apple Cup rivalry games against Washington.
“These seniors have gone through a lot the last few years,” Sears said, alluding to some tough losses, a death of a teammate two seasons ago and the sudden resignation of Marshall Sperbeck this spring. “The Causeway Classic or the Apple Cup. There’s no difference.”
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @editorwriter001