Although finishing with 2-9 records in consecutive seasons, the Sacramento State football team significantly increased its offensive production and total points in 2016 from the previous season.
However, the young roster — which featured 18 of its 22 starters at junior years or younger — had to compete in a much older and more experienced Big Sky Conference. As a result, Sac State has only won four games in the past two seasons and has failed to finish above .500 in the Big Sky Conference since its fourth place finish in 2010.
“You can’t be inexperienced in this league,” junior wide receiver Isiah Hennie said after earning all-Big Sky honorable mention honors on Nov. 22. “A lot of teams that we played against don’t have the same youth that we have so when you put us against the Montana and North Dakota teams with 10, 15-plus seniors that are all dedicated to the program and we are at eight total seniors…it puts us in a little bit of a bind and so I just think that inability and the inexperience was a big part of why we were 2-9.”
Sac State’s true-sophomore quarterback Nate Ketteringham had only played in a few games during his 2015 freshman season after then-sophomore quarterback Kolney Cassel’s season was shortened due to a shoulder injury. Ketteringham, who performed inconsistent all throughout the year, finished the season completing 165 of his 328 passing attempts for 1,977 yards, 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
“I think a couple games he could have lost his confidence at times just because either we were dropping passes at [the] receiver, he was getting less and less time in the pocket,” Hennie said after leading the team with 49 receptions and five touchdown catches. “So, when he had the best game this year [which] was Cal Poly, when we were able to protect him and let him get real settled in the pocket, he played an extremely good game. [And] he has the ability to play like that every single game, and so that’s where I’m going and where we want to go as a team with Nate.”
However, one bright offensive spot for the Hornets was the production from senior running backs Jordan Robinson, who earned Big Sky second-team honors, and Demetrius Warren. Robinson (993) and Warren (506) combined for a total of 1,499 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, but now they must be replaced due to graduation.
“Well, the good thing about running back is it’s one of the most competitive positions on any team and so, when you have two seniors like Demetrius and Jordan Robinson who just came off good years, it’s just like, who’s the next man up, who going to want to attack this position and take this spot over in the spring?” Hennie said. “We have young backs. I saw Quincy Jountti, he looks real promising, as well as Ernie Timoteo. They both (look) optimistic and up to the challenge.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the team allowed 526.7 total yards a game and gave up 40 points or more to opponents in seven of the team’s nine losses. Junior defensive end Ben Sorensen — who became an all-Big Sky honorable mention after posting 41 total tackles and 4.5 sacks — says the inconsistency on the defense and giving up the “big play” is the main focus that the team will look to change in the future.
“Giving up the big plays is what really kind of was our downfall, but that’s one of the main things that we’re going to be focusing on this off season is just executing,” Sorensen said. “We were a little inconsistent at times and that’s one of the things we were really hitting on. But (we) had a hard time starting fast.”
Both Hennie and Sorensen spoke highly of head coach Jody Sears — who will be entering the last year of his four-year contract next season with a 11-23 record — and how Sears’ coaching style combined with the passion to prepare the team for life after college is something that they both admire about Sears.
“I enjoy playing for him because he is persistent. He holds strong to his morals, doesn’t get rattled easy,” Hennie said. “So when you have a coach that’s willing to put his neck out for you and he’s a player’s coach, then it makes it easier to play for somebody like that. He just keeps the family together and that’s one thing I really admire about him.”
Sac State players and coaches alike hope the pieces are in place next season to be more prepared and experienced for kickoff in 2017.
“We have 12 to 13 seniors coming this year that all seem to be taking this challenge a little differently than we have taken the last two seasons,” Hennie said. “So I think our senior leadership this season and our upcoming year, along with the experience of our team will help us be successful.”
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