PREVIEW: Sac State football team begins Big Sky play after bye week

Hornets return home to host FCS runner-up Eastern Washington


Eucario Calderon

Sac State freshman running back Marcus Fulcher dives for a touchdown against Northern Colorado Saturday, Sept. 14 at Hornet Stadium. The Hornets will open Big Sky Conference play against Eastern Washington at home Saturday.

Michael Wiggins

Following a bye week, the Hornets football team will be back in action Saturday night when they open Big Sky Conference play against 2018 Football Championship Subdivision runner-up, the Eastern Washington University Eagles.

Sac State (2-2) entered the bye week after losing to the Fresno State Bulldogs Sept. 21. In a game that was tied with 12 minutes left in play, the Hornets allowed two late touchdowns before losing to the Bulldogs 34-20.  

RELATED: Sac State football team falls short at Fresno State

First-year head coach Troy Taylor said after practice Tuesday that his team took advantage of the time off by identifying concerns and working to make improvements on the field. 

“Cleaning up the details in all three areas,” Taylor said. “Special teams, offense and defense, we needed to improve and I think we were able to do that. We also got some rest and recovery (allowing the players to) get on top of their school work.” 

Historically, conference openers have not gone well for the Hornets. Across 23 seasons in the Big Sky Conference, Sac State has a record of 5-18 in conference opening games. 

The Hornets’ opponent Saturday night is responsible for two of these losses. 

Eastern Washington (2-3, 1-0 Big Sky) beat Sac State to open conference play in 2009 and 2015 and have won six consecutive matchups against Sac State. 

Eastern Washington won its Big Sky opener last week 35-20 against the University of North Dakota.  

Eric Barriere is the leader of the Eagles offense, which is averaging 36 points-per-game this season. Through five games the junior quarterback has thrown 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions and has completed 60 percent of his passes.  

“He’s a hard guy to stop,” Taylor said. “He’s a tremendous kid and player. He’s so explosive, he can hurt you with his arms and his legs. So it’s a tall order.” 

Sac State’s offense has thrived this season as well. The Hornets are 11th in the FCS in scoring, averaging 39 points-per-game. 

Junior quarterback Kevin Thomson has also thrown 13 touchdown passes this season, in just four games.

Freshman tight end Marshel Martin, originally a running back, caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Thomson in the loss at Fresno State. The touchdown catch made the redshirt freshman just the tenth tight end at Sac State since 2004 with multiple touchdown receptions in a single season.  

“It feels good to know I did that,” Martin said. “I worked hard at running back and now I’m doing it at tight-end. The position change is the only difference.”  

Sac State’s defense had given up just 38 points through three games before surrendering 34 points to the Bulldogs in their last game.

Senior defensive lineman George Obinna led the defense with 2.5 sacks against Fresno State. Obinna now has 23 sacks over the course of his career, placing him fourth all-time in program history.

“I’ve just stuck to the script and keep doing what I have to do to make the team better,” Obinna said. 

The senior added that the entire defense needs to play at a higher level this week if the Hornets hope to have success. 

“It all comes down to our fundamentals,” Obinna said. “It’s the little things here and there that lead to big rewards.” 

RELATED: Sac State football team shuts out Northern Colorado 50-0

Sac State is 2-0 at Hornet Stadium so far this season.   

The Hornets play against the Eagles at 6 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Stadium.