Last season, surrendering big plays probably kept Sacramento State out of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. On Saturday night, it looked as if that problem remained.
The Hornets trailed No. 18 Montana State by two touchdowns less than four minutes into the game, then went toe-to-toe with the Bobcats for most of the next 40 minutes before fading in a 35-13 loss.
Sac State allowed a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown to Mitchell Herbert on the second play from scrimmage. The Bobcats then mounted a 74-yard drive aided by a 20-yard run by Chad Newell and an 18-yard burst by quarterback Dakota Prukop. Justin Paige capped that drive with a nine-yard touchdown run on a double reverse.
The Hornets (1-5, 0-3 Big Sky Conference), who averaged 13.5 points while losing their previous four games, came back. Kolney Cassel threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Nnamdi Agude, and Brad Cornish made two field goals to help Sac State close to 21-13 with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
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But Montana State (3-2, 2-1) then found its offensive rhythm, and injuries to key offensive players, including Cassel, proved too much for the Hornets to overcome.
“We knew all the crazy stuff they did, but we kept it pretty simple so our kids could get lined up,” Sac State coach Jody Sears said. “We gave up those big plays, but we were in it in the first half after we forced those three-and-outs. But we didn’t do enough.”
Prukop, who threw for 277 yards on just 12 completions, scored his first of two touchdowns with 2:43 left in the half to put Montana State ahead 21-10.
After forcing a punt on the Bobcats’ first second-half possession, the Hornets drove to the 5-yard line. But Cassel, making his second consecutive start in place of the injured Daniel Kniffin, took two hard hits during the drive, and the second by Taylor Sheridan ended the quarterback’s night.
Cornish’s 22-yard field goal capped the 80-yard march, disappointing Sears.
“The game turned when my quarterback got hurt,” the coach said. “But we have to score (a touchdown). He had a third-degree separation of his shoulder and he is still out there throwing the ball, so we have to get a touchdown out of that.”
Cassel completed 16 of 30 passes for 193 yards. Freshman Nate Ketteringham took over and completed 5 of 9 for 40 yards.
Sac State also lost Jordan Robinson, who ran for 108 yards before pulling a hamstring in the first half.
“This is hard, but we have to just get back into practice and keep moving forward,” Sac State linebacker Darnell Sankey said. “We are not getting blown out. We have to find a way to finish.”