The football goals this season were modest, yet subtly ambitious.
Troy Taylor expected Sacramento State to compete in his first season as head coach, his group to be humble and hungry, to attack on offense and defense, and to have fun throughout it all.
Here come the Hornets.
In beating Football Championship Subdivision No. 6 Montana State 34-21 on Saturday in Bozeman, Mont., Sac State emphatically registered its most significant victory in years in serving notice to the rest of the Big Sky Conference that the rebuild mode is over, replaced by a sudden championship chase.
Montana State is the highest ranked opponent Sac State has defeated since the Hornets started FCS play in 1993.
Kevin Thomson dazzled again at quarterback. The third-year starter went for 260 yards on 23-of-30 passing with three touchdowns. He also led all game rushers with 74 yards on 11 carries and two scores as the Hornets (4-2, 2-0) defeated an FCS-ranked team for the second successive week in downing the Bobcats (5-2, 2-1) for the first time in 28 years.
Thomson was not sacked, the fourth time that has happened this season. He engineered five consecutive touchdown drives after an initial three-and-out series.
Projected by Big Sky coaches to finish at the bottom of the conference before the season, Sac State is sure to be ranked when the next polls come out Monday.
“Great win against a really good team,” Taylor told The Bee shortly after the game. “Our guys were resilient. That was a very physical team and our defense adjusted in the second half. Kevin Thomson was lights out today. Great decision making, accurate and some crucial runs. Our ability to control the ball was a big key.”
Sac State next Saturday will host No. 8 Montana on Homecoming night at Hornet Stadium, where the team is 3-0.
The Hornets earlier this season lost at Arizona State 19-7, entering as 37-point underdogs, and lost at Fresno State 34-20 in a game that was tied in the fourth quarter. Sac State was a 26-point underdog.
The Hornets won two games in 2018, leading Sac State president Robert S. Nelsen and athletic director Mark Orr to seek out Taylor, The Bee’s 1985 Player of the Year out of Cordova High School who went from coaching Folsom High School to state championships, to offensive coordinator stints at Eastern Washington of the Big Sky and Utah of the Pac-12 Conference, signing him to a seven-year contract.
Thomson scored on runs of 7 and 1 yards, and hit Pierre Williams for a 7-yard touchdown for a 21-14 halftime lead Saturday. Thomson had second-half touchdown strikes of 6 yards to BJ Perkinson and 26 to Marshel Martin for a 34-14 lead. The defense recorded four sacks, had eight additional tackles for loss, broke up four passes, had an interception and made a goal-line stand.
Sac State last won a conference championship in 1995, in the American West Conference under coach John Volek, and it last reached the playoffs in 1988, under coach Bob Mattos when the Hornets were in Division II.
Sac State has been in the Big Sky since 1996.