Troy Taylor’s statement of arrival to the rest of the Big Sky Conference got a resounding stamp of affirmation on Saturday in Sacramento.
On the first Saturday in October, Sacramento State dismantled No. 22 Eastern Washington, the team of this decade in the Big Sky and last season’s national runner-up. The 48-27 win marked Sac State’s first over a ranked FCS opponent since 2011.
Last week, the Hornets went into Bobcat Stadium and dismantled the No. 6-ranked Montana State Bobcats on MSU’s homecoming. The 34-21 win marked the highest-ranked FCS opponent Sac State has defeated since its football program began in 1954.
On Saturday, in a homecoming game billed as the biggest in program history against the No. 5 Montana Grizzlies in front of the third-largest non-Causeway Classic crowd in school history, Sac State put forth their best performance yet under Taylor, their swashbuckling, fun-loving first-year head coach.
Montana senior Jerry Louie-McGee ripped off a 64-yard touchdown run on the third play of the game. But the No. 15 Hornets utterly dominated the action from there, answering in two minutes with Pierre Williams’ 44-yard touchdown catch, a scoring reception that sparked a 35-point first half against the previously top-ranked scoring defense in the league.
By the time Kevin Thomson hit Elijah Dotson for a 39-yard touchdown with 14 seconds to go in the third quarter, the Hornets had 49 points, 517 yards and 28 first downs. Sac needed no offensive fireworks in the second half, instead cruising to a 49-22 victory in front of 15,140 at Hornet Stadium on a homecoming Saturday night.
“Ultimately, disappointment is the word,” UM head coach Bobby Hauck said following the game. “This was the Super Bowl to our opponent tonight and they won it. They got after us. They beat us on offense, they beat us on defense and I have to look in the mirror and say how do we get our team ready to play across the board so we can compete against a team like that.”
Thomson, the reigning Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week after totaling five touchdowns in Bozeman, again executed at an elite and efficient level. He completed 24-of-34 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns while rushing 16 times for 50 yards and two more scores. This season, he now has 22 passing touchdowns, seven rushing touchdowns and an inside track on Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year.
Montana senior quarterback Dalton Sneed, like Thomson a former UNLV transfer who ripped opponents the first half of the season, saw his hot streak come to a crashing halt. His fourth pass of the game was intercepted by Daron Bland, leading to the first of two first-half field goals by all-conference kicker Devon Medeiros.
Medeiros’ first field goal from 34 yards out gave Sac an 11-7 lead (the Hornets went for two following Williams’ first touchdown). Thomson’s first rushing touchdown capped an eight-play, 87-yard drive that put the hosts up 18-7 with 3:20 left in the first frame.
Sneed, who rushed for a career-high 208 yards in Montana’s 41-34 win over Sac State in Missoula last season, showed that running ability again as Montana hung tough in the game’s first 20 minutes. Sneed broke multiple tackles on a brutish 19-yard touchdown run to cap a 54-yard drive and cut Sac State’s lead to 18-15.
On Sac State’s ensuing drive, a trick play that led to Lucas Triplett hitting running back Elijah Dotson sparked a scoring drive. That drive stalled when Thomson threw a perfect pass to Marshel Martin that bounced off Martin’s facemask instead of resulting in a 15-yard touchdown. Medeiros’ 32-yard field goal put Sac up 21-15.
Montana could not respond again, leading to another dominant second and third quarters for Taylor and the Hornets. Thomson completed 7-of-8 passes on the Hornets’ next possession, including a 16-yard touchdown strike to true freshman Parker Clayton, the second highlight reel catch of the first half for the rookie from Folsom High where Taylor spent 2012-2015 as the head coach.
That touchdown caped Sac’s 14-play, 84-yard drive and gave the Hornets a 28-15 lead. The teams traded 3-and-outs only to see Sneed — who was under constant duress before leaving the game late with an apparent ankle injury that required crutches — throw his second interception of the season.
Sac State took over with 49 seconds until halftime. Thomson hit Andrew Hem for a 40-yard score 12 seconds later. The Hornets led by 20 at halftime, 35-15.
The assault did not stop. Thomson showed his running ability and his skill operating the speed option, a highlight in Sac’s 11-play, 75-yard drive that included just one pass completion, a personal foul on UM sophomore safety Robby Hauck and was capped by the first of two rushing touchdowns by Thomson, this one from two yards out to give the Hornets a commanding 42-15 lead.
“They made some plays that were pretty special,” Hauck said of Sacramento State. “They did some really good things, even the touchdown Kevin Thomson had rushing, both our starting linebackers met him in the backfield and knocked each other off of him and he ran for the score. It was that kind of night, and I hate saying that because we don’t ever want to have that kind of night, but it was.”
Sneed suffered his injury on a pass completion to running back Marcus Knight with just under five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Junior Cam Humphrey replaced Montana’s emotional leader and offensive team captain. Two plays later, the Griz went for it on 4th & 1 from the Sac 32 only to see Knight rip off a 32-yard touchdown run to cap Montana’s scoring.
Sneed resurfaced on the sideline on crutches and then was shown on the television broadcast icing his right ankle.
As they have the last two weeks, Sac State responded in impressive fashion. Thomson, who threw for 369 yards and three scores, completed three passes for 36 yards to Williams (8 catches, 153 yards) on a drive capped by Dotson’s 39-yard touchdown reception. The Sac State running back managed just 3.4 yards per carry but caught eight passes for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Once the Hornets had a commanding lead, they unleashed the most elite pass rush in the league. Defensive tackle Dariyn Choates finished with 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. Pass rushing demon George Obinna rolled up 1.5 sacks, giving him eight so far this season. Bland added a sack to his interception and the Hornets managed six sacks on the evening.
Sacramento State’s gauntlet continues next weekend against Cal Poly. The Mustangs built a 23-7 lead over North Dakota only to lose 30-26 on Saturday, Sac State still has games against No. 4 Weber State, at Northern Arizona, at Idaho and rival No. 23 UC Davis left on its schedule.
Montana still has to play EWU, at Portland State, Idaho, Weber State and at No. 12 Montana State to finish a season that began with such resounding momentum.
“We’ve got a big, big game coming next weekend with Eastern coming to town,” Hauck said.
Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.