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Turnovers Costly in Football's 20-17 Loss to No. 3 Montana State

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Morris Norrise recorded a career high 128 receiving yards, including a 76-yard touchdown, and the Sacramento State defense limited Montana State to just 275 yards of total offense but four second-half turnovers doomed the Hornets' upset bid in a 20-17 loss to No. 3 Montana State on Saturday.

The Bobcats (8-1 overall, 5-1 in Big Sky Conference games), rallied from a 17-13 deficit heading into the fourth quarter with a 2-yard touchdown run by Cody Kirk with 8:13 to play. Kirk, who was the key to the MSU offense throughout the game, picked up 34 of the 64 yards during the six-play drive which started after a missed 53-yard field goal attempt by the Hornets (6-4, 4-3). Kirk also scored the game's first touchdown with a 15-yard drive midway through the first quarter and finished with 129 yards on 24 carries.

Field goals from Sacramento State's Edgar Castaneda (24 yards) and Montana State's Rory Perez (35 yards) made the score 10-3 in favor of MSU until tight end T.J. Knowles caught a 13-yard pass from Garrett Safron with 5:43 to play in the first half. The touchdowns was Knowles' fourth in as many games (one per game) and gives him five on the year.

In the second half, both team's opened with punts. Norrise countered with a 41-yard return to take the ball to the MSU 30. However, two plays later the pass went through Norrise's hands at the 23-yard line and was intercepted by Darius Jones who took the ball back across midfield. The Hornet defense stopped the Bobcats only to have Trevor Bolton's punt deflect off of a player who was running back to set up a block. The ball was recovered by Donald Tudahl and set up a 44-yard field goal from Perez to give Montana State a 13-10 lead with 7:02 left in the quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Safron connected with Norrise for the 76-yard touchdown. The pair had tried to connect on two long passes in the first half only to have the ball sail past Norrise. In the third quarter, Norrise wrestled for position with safety Steven Bethley, came down with the ball and then burst up the field for the longest play for Sacramento State this season.

"All night they were doing a good job of getting to us at the line of scrimmage," Norrise said after the game. "We knew that if you could make them miss, we could make a big play."

Sacramento State looked to add to its lead early in the fourth quarter, driving to the MSU 21 yard line before Safron threw incomplete on 3rd-and-6. A chop block was called against the Hornets moving the ball to the MSU 36 and after another incomplete pass the coaching staff opted for the long field goal which came up short.

After Kirk's touchdown run, Safron fumbled near midfield but the defense held and got the ball back with 2:05 to play. A roughing the passer penalty against MSU took the ball to the Hornets' 35-yard line before Safron was intercepted by Joel Fuller along the sideline to seal the victory for the Bobcats.

Sacramento State gained 332 yards on the night against the best defense in the Big Sky. The Hornets had 82 team rushing yards, led by 60 from junior Ezekiel Graham on 13 carries. Safron was 20-of-35 for 250 yards and also threw two touchdowns with the two interceptions. The sophomore is now tied for second in school single-season with Ricky Ray with 20 touchdowns this year. Jeff Fleming holds the single-season mark with 23 in 2010. Knowles set a career mark with seven receptions and finished with 55 yards. Norrise eclipsed his previous career high by one yard.

Safety Dijon Washington and linebacker Todd Davis each had double-digit tackles. Washington led all players in the game with 13 tackles while starting in place of the injured Robert Beale at safety. Davis finished with 12 tackles and is now 10th on the Sacramento State career list with 218 stops. The Hornets also had five sacks with one apiece coming from Davis, Jeff BadgerAvery WhiteMatt Lawrence and Darnell Sankey. The team has now tallied 32 sacks on the year which is one shy of the single-season mark during the Div. I-AA/FCS era.

Montana State quarterback DeNarius McGhee was 14-of-22 for 105 yards. Tray Robinson was the leading receiver with three catches for 34 yards. Linebacker Na'a Meakiola paced MSU with nine stops, including five for loss.

Following a bye, Sacramento State will play at UC Davis on Saturday, Nov. 17. The game against the Aggies will kickoff at 3 p.m.

NOTES: Prior to the game, Sacramento State honored 13 seniors who were playing their final game at Hornet Stadium…the Hornet defense held MSU to just 5-of-15 on third down. Montana State entered the game leading the Big Sky with a third-down conversion rate of 57.5 percent…the 100-yard game was the second for Norrise this season and the third of his career…the Hornets allowed 100 yard rushers in back-to-back games for the first time since 2008…the 332 yards allowed by MSU were the most by the Bobcats in a Big Sky game this year.