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With non-conference games in the rear view, the Sacramento State football team will begin Big Sky Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 23, against Southern Utah. The game will kick off at 6:05 p.m. and will serve as the annual Green Day where different campus and local organizations will showcase what they are doing in helping environmental issues.

The Hornets are 1-2 following a 31-24 loss to Weber State last Saturday. Sacramento State trailed 24-0 early in the second quarter before scoring 21-unanswered points to draw within three points. The Hornet defense provided constant pressure against the Wildcats, finishing with 12 tackles-for-loss.

There will be multiple ways to follow this week's game. Hornet fans can tune in to KTKZ 1380 AM (The Answer) to hear the radio call of Jason Ross, Steve McElroy and Danny Sullivan. Live audio streaming is also available via www.hornetsports.com and on the iHeart Radio and Tune-In apps for mobile devices.

The game can also be viewed on WatchBigSky powered by Pluto.TV. The new service by the conference partner allows fans to watch the game on over the type devices. Simply download the Pluto TV app and look for the Hornets on channel 233.

Southern Utah enters having won its last two games to push its record to 2-1 on the year. The Thunderbirds suffered a 77-21 loss at Oregon to start the year but has followed with a road win at Stephen F. Austin (51-14) and a  24-21 victory over No. 21 Northern Iowa in its home opener on Saturday. SUU led UNI, 21-10, in the second quarter only to have the Panthers tie the game, 21-21, with just over five minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The T-Birds then blocked a field goal attempt which would have put UNI ahead and turned it into a game-winning field goal of its own with 1:50 remaining.

Senior QB Patrick Tyler has sparked the SUU offense, completing 57.4 percent off his passes and averaging 270.3 yards per game. Tyler has tossed six touchdowns but has also been intercepted five times. Fifteen T-Birds have caught at least one pass this season with Landen Measom leading the way (15 receptions, 298 yards). James Felila leads the rushing attack with three touchdowns an average of 68.0 yards per game.

Chinedu Ahanonu has a team-high 30 tackles, including 4.5 TFLs, a sack and two forced fumbles.

Demario Warren, who played at UC Davis, is in his second season as the SUU head coach. Warren was the defensive coordinator before replacing Ed Lamb who left to become the assistant head coach at BYU.

Saturday's game against Southern Utah will mark the 22nd season in which the Hornets will compete in the Big Sky Conference.

Unfortunately, the first game of league play has not been kind to the team as Sacramento State has gone 4-17. Last season, the Hornets fell at Idaho State, 42-34.

The schedule maker has not been kind to the team as it has opened against a ranked Big Sky opponent nine times, including four in the top 10.

The team's last win in a Big Sky debut came in 2013 where it won 31-3 at Weber State.

This week is the first time the Hornets will open conference play against Southern Utah.

Below are the results of Big Sky season openers.
Date    Opponent    Result
Sept. 28, 1996    #2 Montana    L, 35-17
Sept. 27, 1997    at #1 Montana    L, 52-10
Sept. 26, 1998    at Montana State    L, 37-30
Sept. 25, 1999    Montana State    L, 41-10
Sept. 16, 2000    #9 Portland State    L, 35-23
Sept. 22, 2001    Idaho State    W, 33-27
Sept. 28, 2002    at Idaho State    L, 32-24
Sept. 27, 2003    #12 Idaho State    W, 47-21
Oct. 2, 2004    at #20 Northern Arizona    L, 26-0
Sept. 17, 2005    at Portland State    L, 28-12
Sept. 23, 2006    at #5 Montana    L, 59-15
Sept. 15, 2007    at Portland State    L, 35-24
Sept. 20, 2008    Weber State    L, 32-27
Sept. 26, 2009    #19 Eastern Wash.    L, 56-30
Sept. 18, 2010    #21 Weber State    W, 24-17
Sept. 17, 2011    at Weber State    L, 49-17
Sept. 22, 2012    North Dakota    L, 35-13
Sept. 28. 2013    at Weber State    W, 31-3
Sept. 27, 2014    at Idaho State    L, 44-24
Sept. 26, 2015    #11 Eastern Wash.    L, 28-20
Sept. 24, 2016    at Idaho State    L, 42-34

Those around the Sacramento State program would never argue that Mister Harriel could be a standout player for the Hornets. The one question in his first two seasons was where to play him. Harriel was a high school quarterback who spent his freshman season as a running back. He was moved to defense as a sophomore and spent some time at cornerback before eventually finding his home at safety.

Harriel was a force against Weber State, posting a career high 16 tackles which included 11 solos, four tackles-for-loss and two sacks.

Prior to the game against the Wildcats, Harriel's career high was five tackles against Idaho in this year's season  opener. Last season, he had four tackles against Montana for his best output meaning that Harriel had as many TFLs against Weber State as he had total tackles in any game prior to this season.

Fellow safety Austin Clark joined Harriel in double digits as he had 10 tackles against Weber State. Clark had 10-plus tackles for third time in his career.

The Sacramento State defense was much maligned last season, ranking towards the bottom of the Big Sky and FBS in several statistical categories. Fast forward a year and the Hornets are ranked among the top four in the Big Sky in turnovers gained (first), total defense (second), tackles-for-loss (second), sacks (second), pass efficiency defense (third), passing defense (third) and rush defense (fourth).

One big factor in the team's transformation has been the ability to limit the big play. Last season, Sacramento State allowed 29 rushing plays and 27 passing plays of at least 25 yards. Through three games this year, the opposition has only two rushes and five passes beyond 25 yards.

Additionally, Sacramento State allowed 14 100-yard rushers in 11 games a year ago. This year, Idaho's Austin Duckworth has been the only player to get over the century mark (142).

Below is a look between last season and this year:

Category 2016 2017
Points allowed per game 39.2 27.0
Rushing yards allowed per game 289.9 145.0
Rushing yards per attempt 6.8 3.5
Passing yards allowed per game 229.7 168.7
Total yards allowed per game 519.6 313.7
Interceptions 4 7
Pass efficient defense 151.1 109.9
Tackles-for-loss per game 5.7 8.3
Sacks per game 1.7 4.0
Third down defense 40.3% 27.3%

In the golden era of ESPN's NFL Primetime, Chris Berman used to say all Cris Carter did was catch touchdown passes. Junior Jaelin Ratliff has done his best Carter impersonation  during his time at Sacramento State, catching eight touchdown passes on 50 career receptions.

Ratliff recorded his second TD of the season in the first half against Weber State on a broken play. Quarterback Kevin Thomson was flushed from the pocket but eventually found Ratliff down the middle of the field. The junior caught the ball at the five and then carried the defender the rest of the way for the touchdown.
The Stockton, Calif., native now has two TDs in 2017 on only six receptions. For his career, he has caught a touchdown pass on 16 percent of his receptions.

Sacramento State enters this week tied with Murray State and Kennesaw State for the most interceptions in the FCS with seven. The Hornet total is already three more than the team had all of last year.

In the last 10 years, Sacramento State has only had 10 or more interceptions five times. The most recent occasion came in 2014 when the Hornets finished with 11 picks. The school's Div. I-AA/FCS era record is 18 in 1994.

Four players have recorded interceptions this year for the team, led by three from Dre Terrell. None of the four, which includes three juniors, had an interception during their career prior to this year.

The most recent INT came from Malcolm Thomas who was able to jump a route in the flat and return it 15 yards for a touchdown. Thomas became the first Sacramento State player to have a pick six since Joey Banks went 41 yards against Idaho State in 2015.

Darnell Sankey became the latest Sacramento State player to appear in an NFL game when he was suited up for the Indianapolis Colts against the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 17.  Sankey, who was an FCS All-American for the Hornets in 2015, was activated from the practice squad on Saturday.

Since graduating, Sankey has been a member of the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings before being signed by the Colts midway through training camp.

Sankey joins Todd Davis as former Sacramento State players on active NFL rosters. Davis has started the first two games for the Broncos this year. Former All-American DeAndre Carter is also a member of the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad.

The last time the Hornets had two players on active NFL rosters was in 2005 when Lonie Paxton (LS, Denver), Daimon Shelton (FB, Buffalo) and Fred Amey (WR, San Francisco) all played in games.

Five Hornets combined for a season-high six sacks against Weber State. That total was the most by a Sacramento State team since getting to the quarterback 10 times at Idaho State in 2011.

Harriel led the charge last weekend with two sacks. He was followed by 1.5 from Ben Sorensen, one from Manoah Pearson and Josiah Erickson and a half from Dariyn Choates.

The six sacks were part of a season-high 12.0 tackles-for-loss. Eight Hornets had at least a half TFL led by 4.0 from Harriel and 2.0 from Immanuel Anderson.

This season, Josiah Erickson has quietly become the team leader in sacks. Erickson had two against Incarnate Word and added his third against WSU.

Sorensen needs 2.5 more TFLs and three more sacks to move into 10th place in school career history.

Wide receiver Andre Lindsey played a large role in the team's second half touchdown drive. Lindsey caught a 27-yard pass down the left sideline and then scored on a 3-yard sweep for his first career rushing touchdown.

Lindsey set a career high and recorded the 15th best receiving game in school history with his efforts against UIW. Lindsey finished with 176 receiving yards on only four receptions for an average of 44.0 yards per grab.

His yardage easily eclipsed his previous career best of 149 which came at Idaho State last season on five receptions. Lindsey's mark was also the most by a Hornet since DeAndre Carter set the school record with 273 receiving yards in 2014. The previous high by a Sacramento State player with four receptions in a game was 132 by Mark Young in 1986.

In three games this season, Lindsey is averaging 33.71 yards per reception which places him second in the FCS behind Damion Jeanpiere of Nichols State (40.11).
Lindsey is also a member of the Sacramento State track & field team where he was the Big Sky champion in the 110-hurdles.

Senior Isiah Hennie is believed to be the first player in school history to return a kickoff and punt return for a touchdown in his career. Hennie had an 89-yard kickoff return against Menlo in 2014 and a 67-yard punt return against Eastern Oregon in 2015. He added a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against Cal Poly in 2017. 

Now Hennie is leaving his mark in the school's career receiving records.

Entering the game against Southern Utah, Hennie is 10th in school history with 107 career receptions. The San Diego native is also close to moving into the top 20 in career receiving yards at Sacramento State.

Below is where Hennie ranks among the school's all-time leaders:
Career Receptions    Total    Needs
6. Nnamdi Agude (2012-15)    112    5
    Tony Washington (2007-08)    112    5
    Ryan Coogler (2004-05, 07)    112    5
9. Mike Carter (1968-69)    110    3
10. Isiah Hennie (2014-pres.)    107    ---

Career Receiving Yards    Total    Needs
15. Chase Deadder (2008-11)    1,298    102
16. Lin Klinkhammer (1985-86)    1,282    86
      Carlos Smith (1996-97)    1,282    86
18. Bill Yurong (1965-67)    1,254    58
19. Chris Bowman (1969-71)    1,249    53
20. Zebedee Brye (1987-89)    1,233    37
--- Isiah Hennie (2014-pres.)    1,196    ---

Sacramento State was picked to finish 12th by the Big Sky coaches and media in the preseason polls.

The Hornets have four players who have already earned their bachelor's degree and are currently pursuing a master's. The group is comprised of seniors Jon Bade, Stone Sander and Joseph Ajeigbe as well as junior Austin Clark. Clark earned his degree in just three academic years and has two years of eligibility remaining.

Sacramento State elected four captains for the 2017 season. WR Isiah Hennie, OL Jon Bade and DB Austin Clark all return for their second season as a captain. New this year is tight end Stone Sander.

After going by Manny Scott-Anderson during his first two years, the junior is now using the name Immanuel Anderson.

Sacramento State has three new coaches in 2017 in offensive coordinator Luke Huard, cornerbacks coach CJ Cox and safeties coach John Therrell. Defensive coordinator Sammy Lawanson moved from safeties to linebackers as well.

There are only three players on the roster not from California. The three are QBs Kolney Cassel and Kevin Thomson who are both from Washington and tight end Steely Smith from Oregon.

Sacramento State set the school record with one penalty for two yards at Idaho. The team's only infraction was a delay of game which resulted in half the distance to the goal line.

WR Andre Lindsey was the Big Sky champion in the outdoor 110-hurdles. WR Darius Armstead was the Big Sky indoor and outdoor champion in the triple jump where he set the school record in both seasons.

Dre Terrell was named the FCS Defensive Player of the Week after having three interceptions against Incarnate Word.