Sac State football hopes to keep Big Sky title hopes alive against Northern Colorado

‘We’re in the race for the Big Sky title’


Brandon Bailey

Junior quarterback Asher O’Hara looks to throw the ball to freshman running back Elijah Tau-Tolliiver at practice on Oct. 19, 2021, at Hornet Stadium. O’Hara leads the team in Rushing yards and touchdowns this season.

Brandon Bailey

Sacramento State football has elevated to No. 2 in the Big Sky conference standings after a crushing 44-0 homecoming victory against Northern Arizona University last Saturday at Hornet Stadium. 

With just four weeks remaining in the regular season , the Hornets are undefeated in Big Sky conference play along with Montana State who sits on top of the conference at No. 1. Sac State has put the rest of the Football Championship Subdivision on notice as they move up to No. 15 in the FCS media poll and No. 23 in the FCS coaches poll. 

The Hornets had their highest scoring output of the season last Saturday, and it was their second Big Sky shutout in program history.

According to cornerback coach Cherokee Valeria, it all starts with the secondary or as he likes to call them “the sharks.” The Hornet defense enters this game against Northern Colorado coming off of their fifth consecutive week with at least one interception. 

“We try to get about three interceptions a practice at least, and the sharks [defensive backs] want to get it themselves,” Valeria said. “We strive as a defense to get three, but the Sharks push themselves to get as many as they can per practice.” 

Valeria said that the key to the defense getting stronger each week is pushing the standards in practice. 

The Hornets are coming off of their best game of the season on both sides of the ball and Northern Colorado comes in with their own steam of momentum following a bounce-back victory against Southern Utah after losing three of their last four games. 

Despite the Bears’ 3-5 record, senior cornerback Munchie Filer III said that the Hornets can’t take this team lightly. 

 “We treat every opponent the same, don’t take them lightly and just play our game and play like how we know how to play,” Filer said.

Take a look below for a guide on things to watch for in this matchup, both teams’ keys to victory and predictions from State Hornet team members. 

Things To Watch For: 

Never Settle

“We’re in the race for the Big Sky title, and that’s where we want to be,” said junior quarterback Asher O’Hara. “[I’m excited to keep playing, got to take it a day at a time.”

The Hornets have their sights on another shot at a Big Sky title and a playoff berth in another impressive victory against Northern Colorado. 

The Hornet offense amounted 657 total yards of offense and the defense played their best game of the season last week, limiting NAU to 226 total yards and 0 points.

This week Sac State will be up against a Northern Colorado team that has struggled to play well all season only averaging 15 points per game. O’Hara said that the key to winning this game comes down to not treating this game any differently than others despite the Bears’ losing record. 

“All we have to do is our job,” O’Hara said. “We saw last week when we all do our job we have games like that, so we’re just excited and ready to keep playing really.” 

Facing Off Against The McCaffreys 

It’s a family affair in Greeley, Colorado as the Hornets face off against three family members of NFL All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, who plays for the Carolina Panthers. The Bears are led by head coach Ed McCaffrey and his son’s,  offensive coordinator Max McCaffrey, and  quarterback Dylan McCaffrey. 

Their family reunion in Greenly has not been very successful, as Northern Colorado comes into this game only winning three of their last eight games. For Dylan it has been a nightmare of a senior year as he currently has more interceptions than touchdowns on the season. 

This stat line works in the Hornets’ favor as they try to continue to apply pressure on quarterbacks and force interceptions for their sixth consecutive week. 

Keys To Victory

Sacramento State: 

With the exception of their first two games, Sac State has got it going offensively and have not looked back since. This week they will have the chance to run up the score similar to how they were able to against Northern Arizona as they face the Bears who give up an average of 27 points per game. 

There has not been a team in the Big Sky who has figured out the recipe for stopping the Dunniway and O’Hara quarterback tandem, and if they continue to execute their roles it will be hard for the Bears too. 

Defensively, the Hornets are facing an opponent that has struggled to get points on the board and only averages 15 points per game. The Hornet defense will need to focus on pouncing on the Bears early by being aggressive up front in their defensive line play and capitalize on its turnover opportunities like they have all season. 

Last week Dylan McCaffrey showed that he can be a threat in the rushing game amassing 100 yards and a touchdown in their last victory against Southern Utah.The Hornets will have to counter that with containment in order to keep McCaffrey in the pocket.  

Northern Colorado: 

The key to victory for the Bears will be building off the momentum of their latest win against the Thunderbirds. It was a close victory, but it was one of the Bears’ better defensive outputs all season. The Bears only allowed nine points, and they will have to try to at least limit the Hornet offense if they want a shot at this game. 

On the offensive side, the Bears will have to limit their turnovers and keep the time of possession in their favor. It will come down to running the ball and attempting to keep the high-powered Sac State offense off of the field as much as they can. 


Football beat writer Brandon Bailey:

Sac State football had its best  performance all season last weekend, and each week they continue to improve and build off of the momentum of their previous victories. 

Their ability to hurt opposing defenses through a balanced rushing attack and passing game has been crucial to their success so far, and when Northern Colorado faces these high-powered offenses in the Big Sky they have given up big numbers. The Bears have also been a turnover machine, amounting at least one turnover in seven of their eight games. 

If the Hornets can continue to create havoc by forcing interceptions and utilizing their depth and quarterback play to throw the Bears off, it will be a runaway game for the Hornets. Hornets win 35-7

Sports editor John Cabales:

If Sac State can keep up the momentum from last week, then they should dominate the game. Its quarterback play has not been good all season, and they barely squeaked out a win last week. With the way Sac State defense has been playing, they should cause havoc for Northern Colorado’s offense. The Hornets will cause multiple turnovers and get a pick six at some point in the game. Hornets win 42-3