Sac State not intimidated by Pac-12 team Cal

James Frazier

The college football season is in full swing, and Sacramento State is off to a blazing start.

After cruising to a 49-13 victory over Incarnate Word in the season-opener on Aug. 30, the team is looking to carry that momentum into it’s big matchup against Pac-12 opponent UC Berkeley on Saturday.

The Golden Bears are also coming in with a 1-0 record, but their first win did not come so easy. Cal narrowly escaped a thriller against Northwestern, as they squandered a 31-7 lead but held on to win 31-24. Outside linebacker Jalen Jefferson sealed the deal with a sack and an interception late in the fourth quarter.

The two teams are no stranger to one another, having previously faced off in Pac-12 meetings. In 2005, a then no. 19 ranked Cal dominated Sac State 41-3 in their Sept. 3 matchup. Current Washington Redskin and former Cal wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a receiving touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown, in what was his first collegiate appearance.

With such a competitive history the Hornets can expect to be greeted by an electrified and confident Berkeley crowd, but linebacker Darnell Sankey is ready for the challenge.

“I’m not worried,” said bay area native Sankey. “It’s just like any other game, there’s no pressure. I go into every game with the same mindset, I’m always hungry for that [win] and ready to compete.”

The 6-foot-2-inch, 250-pound bruiser has plenty of reason to feel confident. Sankey is coming off a monster game last week in which he earned Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honors, and rightfully so. The junior stuffed the stat sheet with 10 total tackles and an interception which he returned 59 yards for a touchdown. He also shared one of the team’s four total sacks.

Sankey also acknowledged a formidable Cal opponent.

“They’re a great team, with a dangerous passing offense and a solid defense,” Sankey said. “But we’re coming off a great game on both sides of the ball. If we just keep that momentum going and keep working to get better, there’s no doubt that we’ll perform at a high level.”

Head coach Jody Sears also expressed emphasis on team chemistry and gelling as a unit, as well expanding leadership roles for upperclassmen and returning players. Sac State is the seventh coaching role for Sears, so he understands the challenges that a team might face in such a transitional stage.

“Our biggest focus has been the leadership development,” Sears said. “My goal is to create a player-led team. Coming out of the locker room, I want those seniors and returning players leading the charge.”

Sears also said that he strives for an atmosphere where new transfers or younger players can confide in their team leaders. Among those leaders is quarterback Garrett Safron, who is looking to follow up an illustrious junior season in which he broke several Sac State single-season passing records.

The senior showed no signs of slowing down in his first game, completing 17-of-25 passes for 251 yards and five touchdowns in the blowout over Incarnate Word.

“I’m just taking it one game at a time, sticking to the game plan and going out there to execute,” Safron said.

For the ringleader of the Hornet’s offense, the significance of his final collegiate season goes deeper than just the gridiron. Even with his impressive string of success Safron is not getting too caught up in the hype. He preferred to give praise to his teammates.

“It’s an honor to go out there and battle with these guys every week,” Safron said. “We’ve come a long way together and it was evident in that last game. These are my brothers on and off the field.”

The game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network and will be broadcasted on KTKZ 1380 AM radio for those interesting in tuning in. Kickoff is at 12 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.