One year removed from Sacramento State’s 51-48 overtime loss to Montana in Sacramento, the Hornets ran into the windshield that was the 2014 version of the Grizzlies’ defense Saturday at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, limping away after a 31-13 defeat.
Sac State sits at 4-5, 1-4 in the Big Sky Conference, while No. 11-ranked Montana is 6-3, 4-1.
Entering Saturday’s contest, the Grizzlies ranked second in the Football Championship Subdivision in scoring defense and third in yardage allowed. Both facets were on display until the Hornets’ final possession – a 13-play, 87-yard touchdown drive – that made the final score 31-13.
Senior quarterback Garrett Safron had a career day against Montana in 2013, throwing for 412 yards and four touchdowns while running for 93 yards and a pair of scores on 20 carries.
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That day wasn’t all about Safron, though. Wideout DeAndre Carter, also a senior now, hauled in 12 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown
But things were much different this time around.
While Safron finished with 262 yards through the air on Saturday, 86 of those came on the Hornets’ final drive, which ended with a 1-yard plunge by the 6-foot-2, 190-pound quarterback on fourth-and-goal.
Carter was held to 50 yards on five receptions, including three catches for 29 yards on the final drive.
“There were a couple plays we left out there on the field,” Safron said. “Some inconsistent play, and we just didn’t execute to the best of our ability.”
Sac State looked strong to begin the game, however.
After the Hornets’ 15-play, 65-yard opening drive stalled at the Griz’s 10-yard line, junior kicker Brad Cornish nailed a 27-yard field goal to give Sac State a 3-0 lead.
Montana responded with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive and didn’t relinquish control.
The Hornets looked to be on their way to another score as they quickly marched down to the Montana 20. After Sac State lost a yard on second-and-7, Safron dropped back on third down and the game’s outlook drastically changed.
Montana linebacker Kendrick Van Ackeren intercepted Safron and ran 59 yards to the Hornets’ 21.
Although Sac State held the Grizzlies to a field goal, the Hornets seemingly couldn’t find their rhythm again after the interception.
“I thought it was inconsistency on both sides that was our downfall,” Sac State head coach Jody Sears said. “When you give up the big play – that’s been kind of our nemesis all year. We give up two or three big plays a game, and that was the difference.”
Despite hanging tough in the yardage battle before halftime – Montana outgained Sac State 156-138 in the first half – the Hornets couldn’t find the end zone and trailed 17-6 at intermission.
The interception was the first of multiple big plays made by Montana.
It didn’t take long for the Griz to strike in the third quarter as running back Jordan Canada ran 68 yards for a touchdown on the team’s second play, giving Montana a 24-6 lead.
The Grizzlies also seemed to convert on third downs regardless of distance.
“They were consistent on third down,” Hornets senior defensive back Robbie Kendall said. “We would make some stops on first and second, then they’d make a play on third down.
“We were missing tackles here and there, but I thought we did an all-right job. They just made some plays and we didn’t. It’s what it came down to.”
Kendall is second on the team in tackles this season but led the Hornets on Saturday with seven, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Sac State played without leading tackler Darnell Sankey because of a knee injury.
Junior receiver Nnamdi Agude led Hornets receivers with 99 yards on eight catches.
Montana’s Canada had 109 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries.