Stanford learned a hard, hard lesson on Saturday night; scheduling the upper crust of the FCS isn’t always a good idea. Sacramento State (3-0) rolled in and handed the Cardinal a tough loss and, what’s more, is that the Hornets did it to their old coach. Troy Taylor, who is credited for elevating Sac State to where they are, fell victim to his own creation in a wild game.
It was Stanford that jumped out to a hot start. Their first drives ended in touchdowns, one from running back Casey Filkins and one a pass from QB Ashton Daniels to Elic Ayomanor. The only points Sacramento State would muster in the first 15 minutes came off the leg of kicker Zach Schreiner. When the opening quarter came to a close, the Hornets trailed 14-3 and it seemed that the Pac-12’s Cardinal were going to do exactly what was expected of them.
The second frame, however, witnessed the tides start to turn for Sac State. Stanford’s offense began to string together a lengthy drive that got them all the way down inside the Hornets red zone. Threating to fall behind by three scores, the defense made a monster play. Cornerback Caleb Nelson picked off Daniels in the end zone for a touchback.
With new life, Sacramento State’s offense marched down the field on a long drive of their own, going 80 yards in 11 plays. Elijah Tau-Tolliver capped it with a one-yard touchdown push, his only carry of the night. The score drew the Hornets back to within four and the game was on.
The Sac State defense rose up again on the next series and forced a punt, giving the ball back to their humming offense. As they had done moments before, they put up another impressive drive. Quarterback Kaiden Bennett ran in from two yards out to give the Hornets their first lead of the game. Once down 14-3, the visitors suddenly found themselves on top 17=14 at the end of the first half.
While the dejected Stanford fans watched their team trod into the locker room, Sacramento State was riding the high of a newfound confidence. That confidence, though, would be tested.
The third quarter began with a 41-yard field goal from Cardinal kicker Joshua Karty to knot things back up at 17 apiece. Shortly following that, Bennett would toss the first of his two interceptions when Scotty Edwards snagged it down at the one-yard line to keep the Hornets offense out of the end zone.
It was a play that could have given the momentum a complete 180 shift but the Sac State defense refused to let it. Safety Cameron Broussard returned the favor and picked off Justin Lamson deep in Stanford territory. The two teams would trade field goals and, when the third came to an end, it was tied 20-20.
Bennett threw another interception a little over three minutes into the fourth quarter and the Cardinal capitalized with a 39-yard field goal from Karty to take a slim lead. Once more, though, the Hornets countered with one of their own. Schreiner hit from 44 to draw it even again. Unease was settling in as the minutes began ticking away. It was starting to feel like Sac State was actually going to do it.
That feeling grew ever more prevalent when Bennett flipped a desperation pass to running back Marcus Fulcher as he was drug down. Fulcher reeled in the throw and turned on the jets, sprinting 49 yards down the sideline before a dismayed Stanford crowd. He cruised into the end zone to give the Hornets a touchdown lead with 1:45 to go.
Sacramento State takes the lead over Stanford The Hornets have a chance to upset Stanford & their former head coach Troy Taylor pic.twitter.com/PB37WzMVM0— The Bluebloods (@The__Bluebloods) September 17, 2023
With one more chance to save the game, the Cardinal offense began moving the ball. Lamson completed a 20-yard pass then an eight-yard one and it appeared as though there might be a last gasp. A big sack by DeShawn Lynch, though, set up a third and 11 which quickly turned to a fourth and 26 after an incomplete pass and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Lamson’s final heave fell incomplete and Sac State rejoiced.
The Hornets win on Saturday means something on a multitude of levels. Not only does it again cement the idea that they are, once more, a legitimate national force in the Big Sky and FCS as a whole, but it was made all the sweeter by happening against the man that, a year ago, patrolled their sideline.
Bennett put the team on his shoulders, throwing for 279 yards and rushing for another 100 to lead the team on the ground. Without star tight end Marshel Martin, the Sac State receivers stepped up big time. Devin Gandy brought in five catches for 64 yards while Carlos Hill was right behind him with four snags and 52 yards. The defense recorded six sacks and forced two takeaways.
The Hornets ride home with a program-defining win and only the fourth FCS-over-FBS one of the season. This victory was a statement from Andy Thompson and a message to the Big Sky as a whole; Sacramento State hasn’t gone anywhere.
They’ll take on Idaho next Saturday in a huge conference opener.