Sacramento State and No. 13 Montana State have had their share of wild shootouts through the years, and Saturday night at Hornet Stadium was no different – as was the final result.
Despite another record performance by quarterback Garrett Safron and some spectacular pass catching by DeAndre Carter and Nnamdi Agude, the Hornets fell 59-56 – their ninth consecutive loss to the Big Sky Conference power Bobcats and third straight by three points.
It looked as if the Hornets might end that streak when Safron, who became only the fourth quarterback in Big Sky history to throw and rush for more than 600 total yards in setting a school record with 609 yards, connected with Carter for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:02 to play to put the Hornets ahead 56-52.
But Montana State’s Gunnar Brekke brought the kickoff back 70 yards to the Sac State 30. Five plays later, Montana State quarterback Dakota Prukop, who had a game to match Safron’s by accounting for eight touchdowns, hit Mitchell Herbert with a 4-yard touchdown pass for the game winner with four seconds to play.
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“No question, I’m really proud of them,” Sac State coach Jody Sears said of his players. “But we’ve got to get better at defending the passing game, and they hit us a few times on the run play.
“... We left two plays on both sides of the ball that we’ve got to make. But I like my guys’ heart, passion and leadership.”
The teams combined for 1,313 yards, and each team punted only once in the second half. Sac State’s 694 total yards was a school record.
Sac State scored six consecutive second-half touchdowns at one point, and Montana State had five touchdowns and a field goal in the second half.
Safron completed 25 of 39 passes for 463 yards and five touchdowns, three to Carter and two to Agude. Carter finished with 11 catches for 184 yards, and Agude made six catches for 197 yards. Safron also rushed for a career-high 146 yards.
Prukop passed for 348 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns.
Montana State took a 52-49 lead with 2:31 to go on a 59-yard touchdown pass from Prukop to Brekke.
Taking over at his own 21 with 2:25 to play, Safron hit Carter with a 32-yard pass to the Montana State 48. After the teams traded penalties – Sac State a hold; Montana State a late hit on Safron – and Safron was sacked, he completed a 25-yard pass to Agude, a 4-yard pass to Isiah Hennie, then the touchdown pass to Carter. Brad Cornish added the point after, and the Hornets led 56-52 with 62 seconds to play.
Montana State coach Rob Ash was expecting nothing less. After all the Bobcats, beat Sac State 64-61 in overtime at Hornet Stadium in 2010.
“I still consider them one of the top programs, one of the top teams in this conference,” Ash said last week. “They’re playing with that classic back-to-the-wall mentality.”
Montana State led 21-14 after the first quarter as the teams combined for 367 total yards.
On the second play from scrimmage, Josh Armstrong picked off Prukop’s pass at the Montana State 31 and returned it for a touchdown. But that would be one of the few Sac State defensive highlights.
Linebacker Darnell Sankey led the Hornets’ defense with 21 tackles, second in school history. The 250-pound junior also scored on a one-yard run with 7:43 remaining that cut Montana State’s lead to 45-42.
Jordan Robinson’s 4-yard touchdown run put Sac State ahead 49-45 with 4:05 to play after a rare three and out by the Bobcats.