College Sports

Sac State and Weber State ready for a rare high-stakes showdown in Sacramento

Troy Taylor played this sport in college, has coached it for years and has studied a ton of formations and players on film.

He knows football and appreciates every ounce of it.

It is no wonder the first-year Sacramento State coach appreciates the rigors of the Big Sky Conference, long deemed the best collection of programs in the Football Championship Subdivision, for years known as Division I-AA.

And for the first time this late into a season, Sac State is peering down on most everyone else in the Big Sky scramble

“It’s a great brand of football,” Taylor said of the Big Sky. “Look at our schedule. Every week, it’s another good team, a new challenge. You want to play good teams with good coaches. No weeks off. You’re going to be tested, and it’s really fun. “

Fun in various forms figures to play out at 6 p.m. Saturday, when No. 6 Sac State hosts No. 3 Weber State in what will be the highest-ranked meeting in the history of Hornet Stadium.

The programs each have 6-2 overall records and 4-0 marks in the Big Sky. This one is for first place and more as the FCS playoffs loom. The game will televised on CW31 and can be heard on radio on ESPN1320.

Weber State is used to the postseason, having won a share of the Big Sky just last season. It enters Saturday having won 11 consecutive Big Sky games and 23 of its last 24 games. The Wildcats of Ogden have been ranked for 39 consecutive weeks, including 17 straight in the top 10.

The school won its first game in program history on Halloween night 100 years ago when Weber Normal College defeated Utah’s Davis High 6-0. Weber State started in 1889, became a four-year school in 1962 and was a charter member of the Big Sky Conference in football in 1963 along with Idaho, Idaho State, Montana and Montana State.

Sac State founded its football program in 1954 and joined the Big Sky in 1993. It hasn’t reached the playoffs since 1988, as a Division II member under coach Bob Mattos. The Hornets last won a conference championship in 1995, under coach John Volek.

Sac State earlier this season became ranked for the first time in seven seasons. This is all new stuff for the Hornets, a program long mired in mediocrity or misery.

Sacramento State’s rebirth

Taylor grew up in Sacramento, graduated as The Bee’s Player of the Year at Cordova High School in 1985 and started and starred four years at quarterback at Cal, when he got a sense that he wanted to coach for a living.

He’s cool and calm in approach, but burns to compete inside. This team has inspired him.

“It’s exciting what’s happened,” Taylor said. “We love this place. It’s a great school, a great city. I always thought Sacramento needs a great team for the city to get behind. Hopefully, we’re that team.”

Sac State has wins over ranked teams this season in No. 22 Eastern Washington 48-27, No. 6 Montana State 34-21 and No. 5 Montana 49-22. The Hornets have won four games in succession for the first time since 1991 when the Hornets started 6-0 and went 8-2 overall under Mattos.

This is Sac State’s best FCS start since moving up in division in 1993, and it sports its highest ranking in program history.

The last time the Hornets started 4-0 in conference play was in 1986 under Mattos as members of the Western Football Conference. The 1969 team under coach Ray Clemons started 4-0 in the Far Western Conference, and it started the 1966 season 6-0 in conference play under Clemons.

Sac State is 4-0 at home and has excelled home and away behind third-year starting quarterback Kevin Thomson, running back Elijah Dotson and a host of receivers.

The offensive line has not allowed a sack in three of the four Big Sky games and five times overall. The unit is anchored by seniors Nick Bianco and Wyatt Ming.

The defense has been tenacious, an attacking group coached by first-year coordinator Andy Thompson.

The unit includes team captain defensive back Caelan Barnes and defensive end George Obinna, who has 9.5 sacks and is a sack away from breaking the program’s career mark of 29.5 set by Zack Nash from 2008-11.

“The defense has been lights out – incredible,” Taylor said. “They’ve stepped up every single week. They’re resilient and are playing with so much confidence. There’s nothing they can’t handle.”

The Hornets will have their hands full against Weber State, a team that relies on the run and defense and beat UC Davis 36-20 in a game that was not that close. UCD was limited to two first-half first downs.

“They’re a big, strong, fast, physical, well-coached team,” UCD coach Dan Hawkins said of Weber State.

Sac State is coming off o a 38-14 win at Cal Poly, outrushing the Mustangs 348-115 as Dotson went for 176 yards and three touchdowns.

Cal Poly coach Tim Walsh said of Sac State after the game, “We got our tails whipped.”

Taylor said of Weber State, “They’re so good. No weakness, all three phases of the game are great. It’ll be a great weather, a great atmosphere on Saturday night. We’re excited.”

Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.