Football prepares to host Eastern Oregon

Jeremiah Martinez

Heading into Saturday’s season opener, Sacramento State football head coach Jody Sears said National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics opponent Eastern Oregon University should not be taken lightly.

“A lot of those kids on that team are from really good programs up in Washington and Oregon,” Sears said. “They’re well-coached [and] they got an extremely good coach.”

Sears said he’s known Mountaineers quarterback Zach Bartlow since the signal-caller attended Waitsburg High School in Waitsburg, Washington.

“He’s a really good athlete,” Sears said. “He’s a good player.”

Eastern Oregon, a participant in the Frontier Conference in NAIA, finished third in the conference last season at 7-3 and went 1-1 against National Champion Southern Oregon University in 2014.

The Mountaineers were ranked No. 13 in the preseason NAIA poll before they lost their season opener to College of Idaho 28-4 on Aug. 29.

Because of the athletic association Eastern Oregon plays in, Sears said the Mountaineers are expected to compete on Saturday.

“You could never take anybody lightly in college football, I don’t care who you’re playing,” Sears said. “It’s so hard to win a college football game, it’s so hard. You’ve got to take care of the things you could control and you cannot make simple errors. You can’t do it, [if] you expect to win.”

Saturday’s match-up will be the first meeting between the two teams, as Sac State is 25-35-1 all-time in season openers.

The team mindset for this weekend’s game is to execute the game plan, no matter who the opponent is.

“I told the guys the other day, it doesn’t matter if it’s Eastern Oregon, Cal Berkeley, Green Bay Packers, whoever comes in here, whoever our opponent is–the biggest opponent that we will face all year is ourselves,” Sears said. “We’ve got to be able to execute our game plan and execute our fundamentals…and really, we need a high level of execution on the things we could control. We have to make sure we’re on point.”

Preparing for his first start of his collegiate career, quarterback Daniel Kniffin said he’s ready to lead the Hornets’ offense after Wednesday’s practice.

“We really like our game plan and everything has been coming into place at practice,” Kniffin said. “We’ve been doing really well on offense, so we’re ready.”

During this week of practice, Kniffin said the first-team offense has performed well with new faces such as receivers Isiah Hennie and Shane Harrison. Right tackle Jonathan Bade, who played tight end last season, will be taken over by Stone Sander this season and Ruben Meza will start at left guard as a redshirt freshman this Saturday.

On the defensive side, linebacker Darnell Sankey said the unit is ready to take a step forward and put their struggles from last season, such as allowing big plays, behind them

“One of the main focuses this offseason has been through our speed,” Sankey said. “Something we improved from last year was our tackling as well. We missed a lot of tackles. That’s something that we really made an emphasis of in spring ball and fall camp.”

Sankey said no team should be taken lightly, and the preparation for this weekend’s game doesn’t change because they’re a lower division opponent.

“NAIA, Pac-12, Big Sky, it doesn’t matter to us,” Sankey said. “Every game is the same thing, just the same mentality, and just go in there and get ready to play ball.”

The Hornets’ weekend matchup with Eastern Oregon is slated to kick off at 6:05 p.m. on Saturday at Hornet Stadium.

It will be the first time Sac State will kick off its season at home since 2008.