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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Sac State’s high-powered offense lifts Hornets over Fighting Hawks

Kaiden Bennett stars as the Hornets keep FCS playoff run alive
Junior+quarterback+Kaiden+Bennett+scrambles+while+looking+downfield+against+UC+Davis+Saturday%2C+Nov.+18%2C+2023.+Bennett+led+the+Sac+State+offense+in+passing+yards+and+rushing+yards+in+the+42-35+win+over+North+Dakota.
James Fife
Junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett scrambles while looking downfield against UC Davis Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. Bennett led the Sac State offense in passing yards and rushing yards in the 42-35 win over North Dakota.

Sacramento State staved off the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in an offensive shootout to take home a 42-35 FCS playoff victory to keep their season alive.

From the start of the game, Sac State established their offensive identity, won upfront and let their talent behind the line of scrimmage make plays. On their first drive, the Hornets didn’t face a third down and rolled into the end zone to take a lead they would never relinquish.

“I’m just proud of this team’s effort,” Sac State head coach Andy Thompson said. “We talked about competing every snap and I feel like we competed all game long.”

The first half saw the Hornets convert on every third down they faced and score touchdowns on every meaningful drive. Sac State would finish the day converting 80% of their third downs, a far cry from the 23% mark they finished with against UC Davis on Nov. 18.

The star of this contest was none other than junior quarterback Kaiden Bennett who finished the day 17-22 for 207 yards, in addition, he totaled 126 yards on the ground and found the end zone three times.

Sac State was able to avoid penalties this game, a mark that has killed them in their losses.

“We talked about no pre-snap penalties and we did a great job with our offensive line,” Thompson said. “Defensively, I thought we did a good job not having any dumb penalties. [Schuster] runs around and you can try and be greedy hitting him late, but I think we did a good job playing smart.”

Sac State’s defense struggled to find a rhythm throughout this contest and struggled to stop the Fighting Hawks’ running game. Of North Dakota’s 358 yards, 221 of them came on the ground.

The Hornets were able to get consistent pressure against the Fighting Hawks’ junior quarterback Tommy Schuster, sacking him four times. Schuster was held far below his season completion percentage, going just 11 for 17 for 137 yards.

RELATED: ‘All gas, no brakes’: Sac State heads into program’s first FCS playoff road game

Sac State’s offense was able to control most of the game, with the exception of the third quarter. North Dakota received the second half kickoff and drove 54 yards in 13 plays to score the first points of the quarter.

In response, the Hornets’ offense came out flat and finished the third quarter with -5 total yards. Going three and out twice and giving the ball back to North Dakota in good field position. The Fighting Hawks quickly tied the game up with two touchdown drives that put the Hornets on the ropes.

To open up the fourth quarter, Thompson brought pressure on two straight plays and the Hornets were able to bring down Schuster on both, forcing the Fighting Hawks to punt and end their scoring run.

“Having everybody do their job and that starts with the front rushers,” Senior linebacker Armon Bailey said about the defense. “Our defensive line did what they had to do, then everybody else did their job.”

Bailey had another team-leading performance, totaling eight tackles and 1.5 sacks in this game. This includes a 13-yard sack that slowed the Fighting Hawks’ momentum early in the fourth quarter.

“Had him for six years at Sac State,” Thompson said of Bailey. “He’s given everything, I thought he put his heart on the line.”

Sac State’s offense, rejuvenated by the defense’s stand, returned to form opening with a 12-yard rush by senior running back Marcus Fulcher to pick up the Hornets’ first first down of the half.

Bennett went on to find a wide-open junior wideout named Anderson Grover who took the drag route all the way down the field, setting up a Fulcher touchdown to break the tie and regain the lead. Grover had by far his best game as a Hornet, with six catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.

“Just getting points on the board, we didn’t do that on the first and second drives,” Bennett said about the offense’s rebound. “Once we did that, we just found a groove.”

North Dakota wasn’t done and continued to run the ball well to move down the field. Schuster connected with junior wideout Bo Belquist for a 34-yard bomb that set up the game-tying score.

Getting the ball with eight minutes remaining, Bennett wasted no time immediately connecting with Grover again for 31 yards on two plays. Bennett would do the rest himself, taking the ball three straight times and scoring a touchdown from 4 yards out.

This would prove to be the game-winning score as the Hornet pass rush kicked into high gear, sacking Schuster twice in three plays.

Sac State keeps their season alive and makes the FCS playoff quarterfinal round for the fourth straight season. They will face South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota, Dec. 2 at 11 a.m.

“Another week of football, man, I love it,” Bennett said.

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Jack Freeman, Managing Editor
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Jack Freeman joined The State Hornet in spring 2022 as a staff writer and is currently a junior majoring in journalism. He returns as a Managing editor, resident Indoor football aficionado, and Kellen Moore fan.
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