Sac State football storms back for first FCS Playoff win

Hornets barely escape Spiders’ web, win 38-31


James Fife

Freshman linebacker Oge Feo, junior linebacker Jeremy Harris and junior tight end Charlie McBride congratulate redshirt freshman running back Eljiah Tau-Tolliver after his 95-yard kick return touchdown Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at Hornet Stadium. Tau-Tolliver’s return was instrumental in the Hornets comeback for their first FCS playoff win in school history.

Jack Freeman, Football Beat Writer

Under heavy rainfall, the Sacramento State Hornets found a way to overcome the Richmond Spiders 38-31 Saturday, taking home the first-ever FCS playoff victory in school history.

“The elements are tough,” Sac State head coach Troy Taylor said. “You’re trying to keep your hands dry, but it just keeps coming down.”

After losing the coin toss, Richmond started with the ball. The Hornet defense came out fast, sacking graduate transfer quarterback Reece Udinski and forcing a three-and-out.

Senior quarterback Asher O’Hara got things going with a 22-yard connection to junior wide receiver Parker Clayton.

Once in the red zone, the Hornets moved the ball inside the Spiders’ 5-yard line. After being stopped twice on the ground, O’Hara popped a pass to junior tight end Marshel Martin who raced into the end zone for a 5-yard score.


Sac State: 7, Richmond: 0

Udinski connected with redshirt senior running back Aaron Dykes for 25 yards on third down to ignite the Spiders’ offense. Two plays later, Udinski found a wide-open redshirt sophomore wide receiver, Jasiah Williams, for a 25-yard touchdown to even things up.

“[Udinski is] probably the most accurate guy we’ve faced all year,” Taylor said. “[He] makes good decisions, very impressive. We knew coming in we had our hands full, left with even more respect for him.”


Sac State: 7, Richmond: 7

The Sac State offense attempted to go back to the ground on the next drive with no luck. Giving the ball back to Richmond after just three plays.

Redshirt junior running back Savon Smith took a draw play 43 yards to begin the Richmond drive. Once the Spiders found Hornet territory, it didn’t take them long to find the end zone with Smith scoring from a yard out.

“Coming in we knew [Sac State] could run the ball really well and [Richmond] had been throwing the ball great and it kinda flipped,” Richmond head coach Russ Huesman said.


Sac State: 7, Richmond: 14

Looking to respond the Hornets turned aggressive, running the ball on fourth down moving the ball out to midfield. 

However, the aggression came back to bite them as on another fourth down O’Hara was stopped short, turning the ball over on downs.

With a short field in front of them, Richmond went back to work. Quickly finding themselves up by two scores after Udinski found graduate transfer wide receiver Leroy Henley wide-open for a 24-yard touchdown.

“They did a really good job passing in the first half,” O’Hara said. “It’s a long game though, and we were able to stick with it and find a way to win in the end.”


Sac State: 7, Richmond: 21

Down big in the second half, the Hornets needed something to go right. Luckily, senior quarterback Jake Dunniway found the sophomore wide receiver, Devin Gandy, over the middle for 39 yards. 

Dunniway looked Gandy’s way again and drew a penalty which kept the drive moving. It was Gandy’s first grab of the season after missing time due to injury.

After Dunniway couldn’t connect with freshman running back Elijah Tau-Tolliver on third-and-goal, they settled for a 24-yard field goal from senior kicker Kyle Sentkowski.

“Everything [Sac State] did today we had seen on film,” Richmond’s redshirt senior cornerback Tyrek Funderburk said. “They are 11-0, so they aren’t going to change up too much.”


Sac State: 10, Richmond: 21

The teams would trade punts for three straight drives, the ball ending up in Sac State’s possession with just over two minutes to play in the first half. 

Dunniway continued his great start helping the Hornets move the ball into Richmond territory. After sophomore wide receiver Jared Gipson lost the ball on a catch that was initially ruled a fumble and Richmond touchdown.

After the referees reviewed the play, it was called an incomplete pass, and the drive was continued.

Sac State got back to work moving the ball down to the goalline where junior running back Marcus Fulcher found an edge and scored from a yard out to close out the half. 

“I wasn’t happy, we weren’t playing very well,” Taylor said about his mood at halftime. “We really struggled on defense early. We could not get off the field on third down.”


Sac State: 17, Richmond: 21

To open the second half, Richmond kicked off and freshman running back Elijah Tau-Tolliver found a hole. He accelerated down the field and after slipping past the last tackler found himself in the end zone for a 95-yard return touchdown.

“I think that was one of the most important plays of the game,” Taylor said. “We had fought back to get [the game] close. It gave us a spark and some energy, it was huge.”


Sac State: 24, Richmond: 21

Richmond got back to work with Dykes after giving up 17 unanswered points. Two runs of over 15 yards moved the Spiders into Hornet territory. Richmond settled for a 26-yard field goal from redshirt sophomore kicker Andrew Lopez


Sac State: 24, Richmond: 24

Tau-Tolliver got right back to it, returning the next kick out to the 50-yard line. The Hornets couldn’t find much offense, however, ultimately being stopped short on fourth down in the red zone.


The Spiders went right back to Dykes on the ground and found more success. Udinski found Henley in the end zone again for a 21-yard score.

Sac State: 24, Richmond: 31

Dunniway spent no time getting back to work, finding senior wide receiver Pierre Williams for 35 yards. Just three plays later in Spider territory and under pressure, Dunniway sailed a pass toward the end zone which was intercepted by Funderburk.

The rain continued to pour, affecting the Spiders’ passing attack. After two incompletions the Spiders punted the ball back to the Hornets.

“Luckily I think the weather started to affect them throwing the ball in the second half,” Taylor said. “They were almost unstoppable there early on.”

After four pass plays fell incomplete, the Hornets surrendered the ball back. However, on the ensuing play, Udinski went to throw and lost the football in the rain, with the Hornets recovering it.

“The thing that bothered me on that one was the ball was sitting out there ready to play for the longest time, and they wouldn’t let us play,” Huesman said. “Now [Udinski] has a very wet football to throw.”

Three plays later Dunniway would look over the middle and be intercepted by Funderburk.

To end the quarter, Dunniway found Martin in double coverage down the field. Martin went up and made a miraculous catch for a 43-yard gain. 

“There was a point where I didn’t think we were going to catch another ball,” Taylor said. “But we decided to try and get it to [Martin], when we need a spark he does it.”

Dunniway kept looking Martin’s way, throwing to him four times on five plays. It paid off as eventually the duo connected on a 19-yard score to even the game up.


Sac State: 31, Richmond: 31

Richmond’s offense continued to sputter on their next drive, having to punt from their own 45-yard line.

Sac State, momentum in hand, started their next drive with some short gains. However, it wouldn’t last as Dunniway would slip at his own 23-yard line and throw an errant pass right to Richmond’s redshirt sophomore cornerback Aamir Hall, who intercepted the pass.

With a fantastic field position, it looked like Richmond’s time to retake the lead. Two short rushes and an incomplete pass set up a 46-yard field goal attempt for redshirt junior kicker Jake Larson. 

Larson’s kick fell well short and wide right, cutting the Hornets a break and giving them the ball back at their own 30-yard line and eight minutes to win the game.

The Dunniway to Martin connection emerged as Martin broke four tackles to get the Hornets going. Three plays later, O’Hara found a wide-open Williams who walked into the end zone for a 51-yard go-ahead touchdown.

“It was a great call by coach,” O’Hara said. “They had been playing my run game really tough all day. [Williams] did a great job, put his head down and ran full speed.”


Sac State: 38, Richmond: 31

As the rain continued to fall the Spiders’ offense did as well. A completion from Udinski to graduate student wide receiver Jakob Herres for 27 yards gave Richmond life, but they couldn’t capitalize.

Sac State went into clock-killing mode, running the ball with O’Hara and sophomore running back Cameron Skattebo. Although they had to punt, the Hornets killed almost three minutes of time and wasted all of Richmond’s remaining timeouts.

With the clock running, Udinski found Henley for 14 yards and brought Richmond to midfield.

However, on second down junior linebacker, Jeremy Harris sacked Udinski for a 9-yard loss. On third-and-19 Udinski couldn’t complete. 

Leaving the game depending on a fourth down. 

Udinski looked left and fired too high for his man and Sac State’s sophomore safety Cameron Broussard found the ball in his hands. The Hornets knelt out the clock to end their first FCS playoff victory. 

“Our guys started this season wanting to make a run,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to do that, it’s hard to make the playoffs, make it to the third round, but they’ve done that. It’s a big deal.”

Sac State football continues their FCS postseason run next Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Incarnate Word at Hornet Stadium.