Hornets blow out Eastern Oregon 41-20 in football opener

Jeremiah Martinez

Opening the season at Hornet Stadium for the first time since 2008, Sacramento State football started off the season in dominant fashion, as they blew out Eastern Oregon University 41-20 Saturday night.

Saturday was also quarterback Daniel Kniffin’s collegiate debut after being named the starter after last weekend’s scrimmage.

“He looked like he does in practice,” said Hornets coach Jody Sears. “He was pretty sharp, he understands the offense, he knows where he’s going with the football…I’m proud of him.”

After a three-and-out and a fumble to start the game, the Hornets’ offense couldn’t be stopped on their next seven possessions, all of which they scored in.

On the Hornets’ first scoring drive, Kniffin threw his first collegiate touchdown with a 10-yard score to running back Jordan Robinson, as the quarterback was pressured by the Mountaineers’ defense on the play.

The touchdown ended an impressive 10-play, 98-yard drive in the first quarter.

Hornets receiver Isiah Hennie added two scores with a 21-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and ran past the Mountaineers’ punt team for a 67-yard return score in the second.

It was Hennie’s first career touchdown on a punt return.

“Isiah is extremely explosive, he’s so quick,” Sears said. “Just to tackle him in the open field is extremely hard, so having him out there is exciting to watch because he could get you a first down on a punt return, he could get you 10 yards, he could make guys miss or if he makes two guys miss, he could take it to the house.”

After taking a 31-0 score into halftime, the Hornets’ offensive dominance continued in the second half, when Kniffin scored his first career rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one after the Hornets failed to convert three straight goal line tries.

On the ensuing kickoff, Eastern Oregon got on the board with a Jace Billingsley 100-yard touchdown return, but the Mountaineers would fail to convert on the extra point.

In the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers added two more scores with a TJ Esekielu one-yard rushing score and a Brenden Kelly 11-yard touchdown reception from Zach Bartlow late in the game.

When asked about getting his first win in his collegiate debut, Kniffin said, “It feels great,” but also said there were several errors on Saturday.

“[There are] mixed emotions,” Kniffin said. “I feel like there was a lot things I could’ve done better, but a W is a W.”

On Saturday, Kniffin went 22-for-34 for 282 yards and three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing).

Another notable performance came from receiver Shane Harrison, who played his first game in two years.

Harrison said “it was awesome” to play in a football game again.

“The weight was killing me, I was dying to get back out there,” Harrison said. “I love football; I love playing with my team [and] had an awesome time.”

Harrison had eight receptions for 125 yards, including a 49-yard reception earlier in the first half that led to the Hornets’ first score of the game.

“[There was] great blocking all around,” Harrison said. “I couldn’t have done it without the blocking I had. That opened up the whole entire play.”

Sears said it was wonderful to have Harrison back.

“It’s an absolute joy to have him back in a part of that receiving corps,” Sears said.

The Hornets’ defense was equally impressive Saturday with strong performances by linebacker Darnell Sankey (12 tackles, one sack) and defensive back Joey Banks (11 tackles, one sack).

In the first half, Sac State’s defense was too much to handle for the Mountaineers’ offense, as they allowed 75 total yards including one rushing yard.

Also, the defense featured three freshman starters: Banks, safety Manny Scott-Anderson and defensive lineman Wyatt Ming.

Three sophomores also started Saturday’s game including: defensive lineman Ben Sorensen, linebacker Tyler Meteer and cornerback Ernest Jenkins.

“There’s a handful of kids that are [true] freshmen and redshirt freshmen,” Sears said about the youth on the defense. “Really, there is no difference, they’re all first year players, but they’re going to have to step up.”

The Hornets start the season at 1-0 and will take on the University of Washington at 11 a.m. next Saturday on the road.

Sac State’s last win against a Football Bowl Subdivision and Pac-12 opponent was on Sept. 8, 2012, when the Hornets defeated the University of Colorado 30-28.