FOOTBALL PLAYS AT NORTHERN ARIZONA ON SATURDAY IN FIRST-PLACE BATTLE

FOOTBALL PLAYS AT NORTHERN ARIZONA ON SATURDAY IN FIRST-PLACE BATTLE

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A BRIEF PREVIEW
Winners of two straight and three of its last four, the Sacramento State football will have one of its stiffest tests of the season on Saturday when it travels to No. 24 Northern Arizona. The game will start at 4 p.m. PT from the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The Hornets improved to 3-1 in the Big Sky Conference with a 34-27 win at North Dakota on Oct. 21. Redshirt freshman Roman Ale made his first collegiate start at quarterback and threw for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The win gave Sacramento State a 3-1 Big Sky record for the third time in program history and sets up a scenario where the Hornets could be tied for first place with a win at NAU.

This Saturday's game marks the only time this season that the Hornets will play back-to-back road games. The win at UND was the first road victory for Sacramento State since the season finale in 2014 at UC Davis.

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.

OPPONENT PREVIEW: NORTHERN ARIZONA
Northern Arizona took over sole possession of first place in the Big Sky after its win over UC Davis and Eastern Washington's loss to Southern Utah. The Lumberjacks have won five consecutive games and enter this week with a 5-2 overall record and a 4-0 mark in league games. Despite the run, NAU is only receiving votes in the STATS media poll and is 24th in the FCS Coaches Poll.

The Lumberjacks have outscored their opponents 200-87 during the win streak, including a 45-31 win against UC Davis in the most recent action.

Quarterback Case Cookus returns to the field after missing most of last year. Cookus ranks eighth in the FCS in passing yards per game (317.7) and is 10th in total offense per game (314.1). Elijah Marks has stepped in for the injured Emmanuel Butler (a preseason All-American) to become the leading receiver. Marks ranks third in the FCS with 135.0 receiving yards per game and has six touchdown catches.

NAU is coached by Jerome Souers who is in his 20th season with the school. Souers, who announced he will retire at the end of the season, owns a 117-106 overall record.

TAKE IT INSIDE
Sacramento State will play the third of three games this season indoors when it heads to the J.L. Walkup Skydome on Saturday. The Hornets opened the year inside the Kibbie Dome against Idaho and played at North Dakota last week.

Playing indoors has not been a bad thing for the team. Sacramento State is now 2-0 all-time at the Alerus Center and has four wins at both ISU and NAU.

GET OFF THE FIELD
North Dakota started the game against the Hornets doing what no team had been able to do all year. The Fighting Hawks converted on a pair of third downs in the first half which led to scoring drives. However, those two were the exception to the game as Sacramento State limited UND to 2-of-14 on third down during the contest.

Strangely North Dakota's two successful attempts came on 3rd-and-12 and 3rd-and-15. The team failed on several short yardage situations, including a 3rd-and-2 late in the fourth quarter where Monoah Pearson recorded a tackle-for-loss.

Having success on third down is nothing new to the Hornets this year. Sacramento State has led the Big Sky for much of the season and became the best in the FCS following last week. The Hornets have help opponents to 25-of-99 on third downs for 25.3 percent. The next closest team in the FCS is McNeese at 25.6 percent.

ROMAN REIGNS AT NORTH DAKOTA
Redshirt freshman Roman Ale started the season as the team's fourth quarterback on the depth chart but instead led the team to its fourth victory over the year after his performance at North Dakota.
Ale made his collegiate debut against the Fighting Hawks, starting the game and completed 13-of-19 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns.

Ale had an efficiency rating of 219.43 in the game after averaging 20.23 yards per completion without a turnover.

The change at quarterback was made after injuries were suffered by Kevin Thomson, Wyatt Clapper and Kolney Cassel. To help provide depth behind Ale, wide receiver Nolan Merker shifted back to quarterback in the days leading up to the game at North Dakota.

Ale last played in the California State Div. I-A championship game at Hornet Stadium in 2015 where he led Narbonne to the title. That season, Ale was named the City Player of the Year by the LA Times and was an all-area selection by the LA Daily Breeze after throwing for 3,558 yards with 45 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

TURNOVER TURNAROUND
Through the first four games this season, Sacramento State was among the FCS leaders in turnovers created. However, the team was unable to get a takeaway at Eastern Washington or against Idaho State. That trend switch directions at North Dakota where the Hornets had an interception and recovered a pair of fumbles.

Mister Harriel grabbed his third interception of the season and halted a scoring drive which would have given UND the lead just before halftime. Harriel knocked the ball out of the receiver's hands in the air and caught the ball between his knees along the sideline.

Just plays after the Hornets took the lead early in the third quarter, Dariyn Choates strip sacked Keaton Studsrud and Marcus Bruce picked up the bouncing ball and returned it 25 yards for his first career score. The touchdown was the second for the defense this season.

George Obinna collected the third turnover after knocking the ball out of the hands of backup quarterback Andrew Zimmerman and falling on the loose ball.

While not counting as turnovers, Sacramento State also saw Choates block a field goal attempt in the second quarter and the team stopped UND on downs in the fourth quarter.

The Hornets are now plus-9 in turnovers this season which leads the Big Sky and ties Sacramento State for 10th in the FCS at plus-1.29 per game.

The team's 11 interceptions easily surpassed its total of four from a year ago. The mark is the most since 2014 when the team also had 11 picks.

A LOOK BACK AND AHEAD
Sacramento State improved to 2-0 all-time at the Alerus Center with the win last Saturday. The victory was the first on the road since the Hornets defeated UC Davis, 41-30, in 2014. Sacramento State had lost 14 consecutive road games before downing the Fighting Hawks.

The Hornets last won consecutive road games in the final game of 2013 (Portland State, 43-42) and the opener of 2014 (Incarnate Word, 49-13). The last time the team won road games in consecutive weeks came in 2012 at Idaho State (54-31) and Southern Utah (27-22).

Sacramento State has only started Big Sky play 3-1 in two other seasons. In both 2012 and 2013 the Hornets won three of their first four but finished 4-4.

A win at Northern Arizona on Saturday would give Sacramento State is first victory over a ranked opponent since  beating No. 11 Cal Poly, 39-25, in 2012. The last road win over a ranked team came at No. 25 NAU in 2010.

GO BIG, GO ZONE
Andre Lindsey added to his amazing season with four receptions for 154 yards and two touchdowns at North Dakota. Lindsey averaged 38.5 yards per reception against the Fighting Hawks and had scores of 69 and 56 yards.

Lindsey currently leads the FCS with 31.8 yards per reception. That mark would easily shatter the school single-season record of 23.21 ypc which was set by Kevin Fontes in 1982. Lindsey also has a team-high 540 receiving yards and five TD catches this season.

This year, eight of Lindsey's 17 receptions have been for 25 yards or longer. He owns the three longest receptions on the team at 69, 60 and 56 which all went for touchdowns.

The Stockton, Calif., native has established himself as one of the fastest players in the Big Sky. Last spring, he won the conference title in the 110-hurdles and advanced to the NCAA West Preliminary.

SACK STATE
Sacramento State had four sacks at North Dakota — two which included fumbles — to extend its streak with at least two sacks to seven games.

Ben Sorensen had two sacks while George Obinna and Dariyn Choates each added one. The four sacks raised the team total to 27 this year which is tied for the second most in the FCS. The Div. I-AA/FCS era record for the Hornets is 33 which has occurred three times. The overall school record of 53 came in 1986.

Obinna leads the team with 7.5 sacks this year. His average of 1.04 per game is the best in the Big Sky and places him fourth in the FCS.

The trio of Obinna, Sorensen (0.92) and Choates (0.71) rank as the top three in Big Sky in sacks per game.

Obinna has jumped into sixth place in Sacramento State history with 18.5 career sacks. His next QB takedown will move him into a tie for fourth place with Christian Clark (2007-10) and Randy Rains (1985-87). Zack Nash holds the school record with 29.5 sacks between 2008-11.

MR. CONSISTENCY
Not only has Kevin Thomson been very good in his last three games, he's been extremely consistent. Thomson threw for 253 yards against Southern Utah and Eastern Washington before raising his total all the way to 254 yards against Idaho State.

The junior is averaging 217.5 passing yards per game and 70.3 rushing yards per game. His average of 287.7 yards of total offense per contest would rank as the third highest in school history. Only Garrett Safron averaged more yards of total offense as he had 353.4 in 2014 and 315.1 in 2013.

After consecutive 100-yard rushing games, Thomson rushed for 85 yards against the Bengals. He was also able to score the team's first touchdown giving him eight scores over his last three games.
Thomson continues to lead the team with 422 rushing yards on the season and is the only player on the roster to rush for at least four TDs. His average of 70.3 rushing yards per game places him fifth in the Big Sky for all games while his mark of 118.3 in conference games is the third best in the league.

Thomson became the first Hornet QB to have consecutive 100-yard games in school history and joins Garrett Safron as the only Sacramento State signal callers to have multiple 100-yard rushing games in their careers. Safron had four games over the century mark during his career from 2011-14.

Ricky Ray holds the Sacramento State single-season record with 10 rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Ray set that mark in 2000 with many coming on short quarterback sneaks.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
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 turnover margin (first), opponent third-down conversion (first), sacks (first), total defense (second), rushing defense (third) and interceptions (second).

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 29.7
Rushing yards allowed per game 289.9 138.6
Rushing yards per attempt 6.8 3.7
Passing yards allowed per game 229.7 241.0
Total yards allowed per game 519.6 379.6
Interceptions 4 11
Pass efficiency defense 151.1 130.9
Tackles-for-loss per game 5.7 7.9
Sacks per game 1.7 3.9
Third down defense 40.3% 25.3%


TAKING TURNS
Throughout the season, Sacramento State has rotated ball carriers. Senior Joseph Ajeigbe and freshmen Elijah Dotson, Isaiah Gable and BJ Perkinson have each been the team's leading rusher among running backs in the six games this year.

Perkinson had his best game against Idaho State where he had 155 rushing yards on 17 carries. He averaged 9.1 yards per carry against the Bengals and scored his first career touchdown.
Dotson led the backs in the first two games of the year with 46 yards at Idaho and 74 against Incarnate Word. He also had a team-high 57 at UND. Ajeigbe had a team-high 40 yards against Incarnate Word and 21 yards against Weber State. Gable posted a career high 89 yards at Eastern Washington.

None of the four had a rushing attempt for the Hornets last season.

In three conference games this season,  The Hornets are averaging 283.2 rushing yards which ranks second in the Big Sky. Overall, Sacramento State is fourth in the Big Sky and 20th nationally at 210.9 rushing yards per game. The team has not averaged 200 rushing yards per game since 2000 when it finished the year at 207.9.

HENNIE LEAVING HIS MARK
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 2016.  Now Hennie is leaving his mark in the school's career receiving records.
Entering the game at Northern Arizona, Hennie is fifth in school history with 128 career receptions. The San Diego native has also moved into the top 15 in career receiving yards at Sacramento State.

Below is where Hennie ranks among the school's all-time leaders:

Career Receptions    Total    Needs
3. DeAndre Carter (2011-14)    207    79
4. Shane Harrison (2011-15)    134    6
5. Isiah Hennie (2014-pres.)    128    ---

Career Receiving Yards    Total    Needs
9. Scott Towne (1997-2000)    1,646    202
10. Kevin Fontes (1981-82)    1,468    44
11. Isiah Hennie (2014-pres.)    1,424    ---

NEW NAME, SAME RESULTS
Junior Immanuel Anderson (formerly known as Manny Scott-Anderson) may be going by a new name but continues to add to his career tackles total. Anderson had just one tackle at UND and continues is climb up the school's career tackle list.

Anderson has started 28 of the 29 games in his career. Last season, he led the team with 107 total tackles which placed him second in the Big Sky during the regular season and 10th in school single-season history.

Below is where Anderson ranks among the school's all-time leaders:

Career Tackles    Total    Needs
11. Camron Mbewa (2000-03)    236    25
12. Ramon Payne (2001-04)    212    1
13. Immanuel Anderson (2015-17)    211    ---