Preview: Sac State football stands at No. 3 seed in the Big Sky conference after Montana victory

Hornets prepare to face off against Northern Arizona


Brandon Bailey

Senior linebacker Taylor Powell (4) and senior linebacker Marcus Hawkins (5) communicate in between plays on Oct. 19, 2021, at Hornet Stadium. Hawkins and Powell have combined for 82 total tackles on the season.

Brandon Bailey

Sacramento State (4-2 on the season, 3-0 in Big Sky) will face Northern Arizona (3-3, 2,1) for their homecoming game at 6 p.m. on Oct. 23 at Hornet Stadium. 

The Hornets come off of a 28-21 victory over previously No. 5 ranked University of Montana and have been moved up to No.19 in the Football Champion Subdivision media poll. They are currently the No. 3 seed in the Big Sky.

According to head coach Troy Taylor, it was a hostile environment in Missoula and the Hornets talked about “just hanging in there and competing because there will be some big plays.”

The big plays and confidence that the Hornets displayed against Montana has been synonymous with how the Hornets have performed since the beginning of conference play. The Hornets have hit their stride in the Big Sky, and so far they’re 3-0 against the competition. 

“Like I’ve always said, we feel like we got the guys on offense and defense to compete with anybody in the country as long as we play our game,” said junior quarterback Jake Dunniway. 

This week the Hornets will face-off against a Northern Arizona team that has also found their rhythm these past two weeks averaging 53.5 points in their victories against Idaho State and Southern Utah. 

Northern Arizona is led by true freshman quarterback RJ Martinez, and since his debut in their  Football Bowl Subdivision win the Lumberjacks are 2-1. 

 Even with the Lumberjacks being led by a freshman on the offensive side, Taylor said that their quarterback is really good, and the team has a challenge ahead of them. 

“The bottom line is at this point in the year guys have played enough where they have experience,” Taylor said.

Read below for a guide on what to watch for in this matchup, both teams’ keys to victory and predictions by The State Hornet team. 

Things To Watch For: 

Can the Hornet’s defense continue to create stops and halt opposing offenses? 

Last week the Hornets clamped down on the Grizzlies and only allowed 84 yards rushing and 188 passing yards. This week the Hornets will have to repeat what they did as they face a Lumberjack offense that averages 407.8 yards per game. 

“It makes it really easy when you’re on the same page as the guy next to you,” said senior linebacker Taylor Powell. “It’s really easy to make plays when the other guys are fitting in the right place and running into the ball just as hard as you.” 

The key for the Hornets is trusting each other and building off each game, according to senior linebacker Marcus Hawkins. 

“We know where we’re at,” Hawkins said. “We honestly both think we’re the best linebackers in the conference, and we think we have the best defense in the conference.”

Battle of Offenses 

The Hornets are the third-highest ranked passing team in the Big Sky, and between Dunniway and Asher O’Hara opposing teams have struggled to find an answer at stopping the Sac State quarterback duo. On the other hand, the Lumberjacks are coming into this game with confidence as well after putting up 59 points in their most recent win against Southern Utah and 48 points in their victory against Idaho State. 

Martinez has exploded onto the scene for the Lumberjacks along with freshman running back Kevin Daniels and redshirt freshman wide receiver Coleman Owen who lead their team in both rushing and receiving yards. 

Both teams are efficient and do not turn the ball over often, so for either team to come out victorious it will come down to which team will be able to create stops and win the turnover battle. 

Keys to victory

Sacramento State: 

In the past two games, the Hornets have been consistent at playing a complete game on both sides of the ball. The offense has been able to move the ball and score points, and on the defensive side the Hornets are creating turnovers and forcing stops. 

In order for them to continue their three-game winning streak in the Big Sky, the Hornets will need to neutralize Northern Arizona’s offense. The secondary has played exceptional for the Hornets, forcing turnovers in every game since their week two matchup against the University of Northern Iowa. 

Since the Lumberjacks have started Martinez, they have not been as sloppy with the ball, and in the past two weeks the Lumberjacks have displayed that they are capable of lighting the scoreboard up. The Hornets will have to find ways to create havoc by forcing turnovers and causing pressure with the defensive line led by senior defensive lineman Josiah Erickson who has five sacks on the season. 

Northern Arizona:

The Lumberjacks are coming off of back-to-back 40-point performances. Offense hasn’t been a problem for them, but in their last outing against Southern Utah they gave up 542 total yards. 

Considering how the Hornets have played on defense, the Lumberjacks cannot allow them to move the ball down the field as efficiently as the Thunderbirds did in their last game. It will be hard for the Hornet offense to be neutralized, especially with a duo of quarterbacks that can hurt you in the air or on the ground at any point in the game.  

In order for the Lumberjacks to spoil Sac State’s homecoming, they will have to create stops and find a way to slow down their offense. 


Football beat writer Brandon Bailey: 

Sac State will be tested again this week as both teams come into this game with momentum from their previous wins. 

Against a team who likes to light up the scoreboard and establish dominance on the offensive side, Sac State’s offense will have to maintain the time of possession by keeping the ball on the ground and passing the ball efficiently. 

The Hornet defense has been on a roll with creating turnovers and pressure on the defensive side, and they will have to keep it up as they prepare for a scorching hot Northern Arizona offense. Sac State wins 42-28.

Sports editor John Cabales: 

The Lumberjacks are on fire since the freshman quarterback has taken over. 

The Hornets’ defense has to put pressure on him and move him off his spots. They must keep him from getting into a rhythm and force a few turnovers, then the offense has to take advantage and put points on the board. 

The game will be a battle and closer than some people expect. Sac State wins 34-28.