Garrett Safron absorbed the usual freshman hit – the high price of tuition, books, room and board – and spent the ensuing three seasons crossing out items on his unofficial bucket list. The one-time walk-on from Santa Monica High earned a scholarship to Sacramento State, beat out the competition for starting quarterback, rewrote the Hornets’ record book, and finally on Saturday, in his last gasp at defeating UC Davis, he grabbed a chunk of the Causeway and held it aloft with his teammates.
Joy. Relief. Disbelief. Safron’s range of emotions was as abundant as his skill. The trophy weighs a hefty 281/2 pounds, but after a rare and cherished 41-30 victory over their neighboring Big Sky Conference rivals, Safron and friends never wanted to let go. They ran around the field, celebrated like this was 2008 or 2009, the only other times the Hornets have prevailed in the annual classic in the past 15 years.
“To go out like this is a great feeling,” said Safron, a wide grin stretching across his boyish features. A few minutes later, he rejoined the impromptu party that shifted to the area outside the visitors locker room. Most of the usual suspects – including his mother and almost half the family employees who work at the Safron-owned Gilbert’s restaurant in Los Angeles – were still there, dressed in Hornets colors and attire, clutching cameras and posing for photos, and despite the chill, in no rush to leave the premises.
And this year of all years? The Hornets are not exactly a model of stability at the moment. Jody Sears is the interim head coach. Bill Macriss is the interim athletic director. Alexander Gonzalez is the soon-to-be-retired university president. Whether this favorable, uplifting ending to a 7-5 season alters anyone’s job title remains to be seen.
But on the field, at least, the Hornets overcame the adversity of playing on an opponent’s turf, withstood another punishing outing by Aggies running back Gabe Manzanares (23 rushes for 161 yards) and a solid performance by sophomore quarterback Ben Scott (three touchdowns), and capitalized on an uncharacteristic fumble by Manzanares in the fourth quarter with the deciding drive.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Safron, who tormented opponents throughout his prolific college career with his legs and his much-improved arm, opened the drive near midfield. After keeping the ball for a short gain, he handed off to running back Jordan Robinson for gains of seven and six yards, then connected with wideouts Nnamdi Agude and Chris Broadnax, then called a timeout with the Hornets facing a third and eight on the Aggies’ 21.
As the Aggies would lament afterward, these are exactly the situations when Safron is at his most daring, his most dangerous, when he loves to cross up the defense and try something totally out of the ordinary. This time? How about a pass that led to a jump ball near the goal line?
Safron, who completed 25 of 33 passes for 288 yards and four touchdowns, sent Robinson toward the end zone, then lifted a feathery pass toward the running back, who was chased by 6-foot-4 lineman Zak Pettit. As the ball arrived, the 5-foot-11 Robinson turned, elevated and outleaped Pettit to make the grab – only the most spectacular of several impressive catches Hornets receivers came up with throughout the afternoon.
“We don’t practice that,” Safron said of the touchdown that put Sac State ahead 34-30, “but I know (Robinson) has that ability. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s easy just to give them (wideouts) the ball and let them go to work. They are true playmakers, and I have a couple of them: DeAndre (Carter), Nnamdi (Agude) and Jordan Robinson.”
Aggies coach Ron Gould puts Safron in the same crowd. He not only makes plays, said Gould, “He gets guys in the right places and understands defenses. And he throws a tremendous deep ball. There’s something we call a ‘soft’ ball, and he has the uncanny ability to throw a pass where his guys can get it, that’s not too hard or too soft. Safron, man, he’s just a winner.”
Safron, who entered the game as the Football Championship Subdivision leader in total offense, leaves as Sac State’s leader in career passing yards, passing touchdowns, attempts, completions and total offense. In other words, not bad for a Southern Californian who walked on at Sac State only because he wasn’t offered a scholarship out of high school. For an encore, he graduates next month with a degree in communication and then plans to start training for the NFL Pro Day.
“Garrett came up here with a chip on his shoulder,” said his mother, Chavela, “but he matured, and things started happening for him. We won’t miss the long drives, and really, there’s a bunch of us that have been coming up here and hanging out all these years. But it’s been a wonderful experience for all of us and a great way for it to end.”
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.