Sacramento State and Southern Utah, teams with high expectations and disappointing results, will play Saturday at Hornet Stadium.
Sac State (4-5, 1-4) had hoped to make the playoffs for the first time since joining the Big Sky Conference because of a promising schedule, an upper classmen-led lineup and a record-setting quarterback.
Southern Utah (2-7, 2-3) anticipated building on last season’s 8-5 record and first NCAA playoff berth.
But both are in the bottom half of the standings and looking for face-saving pushes in their final three games.
Last year, Southern Utah left Hornet Stadium with a 24-21 overtime victory in a nonconference matchup. The Hornets, who led 21-13 with 4:52 to play, twice thought they had secured the victory with forced turnovers on the Thunderbirds’ final drive, which started at the Southern Utah 2. But both plays, including Anthony Payne’s interception return for an apparent touchdown, were nullified by penalties.
After Southern Utah scored a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining to make it 21-19, Thunderbirds quarterback Aaron Cantu’s pass to Fatu Moala was deflected in the front right corner of the end zone, but Griff McNabb caught the ball to send the game into overtime. Colton Cook won it with a 38-yard field goal.
In 2012, Sac State won 27-22 in Cedar City, Utah, when Garrett Safron passed for a touchdown and ran for two scores and Jeff Badger intercepted a pass with 1:45 to play.
The series is tied 7-7.
Sac State is coming off a 31-13 loss at No. 11 Montana, a game in which Safron secured the final Hornets career record he was missing when he passed Ryan Leadingham in career passing attempts.
Safron holds Sac State career records for attempts (1,226), completions (764), yards (8,710) and touchdowns (74). He also is the career total offense leader (10,496).
“I’ve always been very impressed with what he can do as a dual-threat quarterback…his total yards speak for themselves,” Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb said. “He’s not one of those guys looking to do it all with his feet. He knows how to extend plays in the passing game, and he does a really good job on their read-option series of pulling the ball and giving the defense an extra element to have to defend.”
The Thunderbirds played one of the toughest early schedules in the Football Championship Subdivision with games against Nevada, Fresno State , nationally ranked Southeastern Louisiana and South Dakota State. In Big Sky play, they lost to No. 5 Eastern Washington and No. 21 Cal Poly.
Mile high – UC Davis (1-7, 0-5) isn’t catching Northern Arizona at a good time or in a good place.
No. 25 Northern Arizona (6-3, 4-1) has won three in a row since committing five turnovers and losing 24-17 at Northern Colorado on Oct. 4. The Lumberjacks have since beaten Portland State, Eastern Washington and Weber State and are one of six Big Sky teams with only one conference loss.
And the game will be played at nearly 7,000 feet in Flagstaff, Ariz., always a challenge for visiting teams. The Lumberjacks have an eight-game regular-season home winning streak dating to 2012.
Among the other hurdles: Lumberjacks coach Jerome Souers is aiming for his 100th Big Sky victory and it’s Northern Arizona’s Hall of Fame game.
One of the inductees will be UCD first-year assistant coach Dan Finn, a former three-time All-Big Sky first-team offensive lineman for Northern Arizona.
The Aggies are trying to avoid their first seven-game losing streak since 1959, when they were 1-8.
“We have to go out and play four quarters of football, which is something we have yet to do,” UCD coach Ron Gould said.
Tip-off time – The Sac State men’s and women’s basketball teams host exhibition games this weekend.
The Sac State men host Menlo College at 7 p.m. Friday. The Hornets defeated Holy Names of Oakland 68-45 in an exhibition Tuesday at The Nest. The Sac State women host Chico State at 6 p.m. Saturday.
The UC Davis women host an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Friday against Sonoma State.
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.
SATURDAY’S FOOTBALL GAMES
SACRAMENTO STATE VS. SOUTHERN UTAH
▪ When: 2 p.m.
▪ Radio: 1380
UC DAVIS AT NORTHERN ARIZONA
▪ When: 1 p.m.
▪ Radio: 1140