A BRIEF PREVIEW
Sacramento State football will open its 2018 season on Saturday, Sept. 1, when the Hornets host St. Francis (Ill.) at 6 p.m. inside Hornet Stadium.
The team ended last season having won five of its last six games and finished the year with a 7-4 overall record and a 6-2 Big Sky Conference mark. The seven wins were tied for the most in the school's Div. I era while the six conference victories and seven wins over Div. I opponents were school records.
The Hornets' momentum has caught the eye of the national media. Sacramento State was picked 19th in the Street & Smith's preview and 23rd in the Athlon Sports preseason rankings. The team also received votes in the STATS FCS top 25 as well as the AFCA Coaches Poll.
There will be multiple ways to follow this week's game. Hornet fans can tune in to ESPN 1320 AM 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 Tune-In app for mobile devices.
CW31 will televise the game in the Sacramento region. Dave Lewis will handle the play-by-play and will be joined by former Hornet quarterback and Arena Football League record-holder Aaron Garcia (color).
The game can also be viewed on Pluto.TV. The official online service of the Big Sky allows fans to watch the game on over the type devices.
OPPONENT PREVIEW: ST. FRANCIS (ILL.)
St. Francis (Ill.) will be makings its first trip to California for a football game in program history. The Fighting Saints were 5-5 overall a year ago but went 4-1 in league games to finish second in the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League. Fifteen players earned all-MSFA honors last season, including 10 which return for 2018.
Quarterback Aaron Ellis was the team's leading passer in 2017 with 1,821 yards and 21 touchdowns with only four interceptions. Brandon Ruffin is the team's leading returning receiver with 32 catches for 661 yards and eight TDs. The offense also returns its top two rushers from a year ago in Jordon Smith (372 yards, 2 TDs) and Perre' Barbarin (334 yards, 3 TDs).
Malik Thurman led the team with 66 total tackles last year but is the only one of the top four tacklers back with USF in 2018.
Head coach Joe Curry returns for his seventh season leading his alma mater. Curry is 30-25 and was the MSFA Midwest League Coach of the Year in 2015.
IN THE BEGINNING
Sacramento State is 26-37-1 all-time in season openers and 15-9 when starting the year at home.
This weekend's game will mark the third time in four seasons that Sacramento State will face a non-NCAA Div. I team to open the year. Since moving to Div. I-AA/FCS, Sacramento State is 2-1 in openers against non Div. I teams.
Sacramento State will also be opening the season at home for the third time in four years. The Hornets previously defeated Eastern Oregon, 41-20, in 2015 before being upset by Western Oregon, 38-30, in 2016. Prior to those games, the team started the year on the road from 2009-14.
Including this season, the Hornets have opened the year against a non-FCS team in 16 of the last 17 years. Thirteen of those games have come against teams from the FBS while the other three are against Div. II and NAIA opponents.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME
A big part of the team's success last season was its ability to win at Hornet Stadium. The Hornets went 5-1 on their home field with their only loss coming to Weber State (31-24) which went on to win the Big Sky and advanced to the FCS semifinals. The five home victories were the most for the program in a season since the team went 5-0 in 1992.
Sacramento State averaged 46.1 points per game at home in its six games. In the five victories, the team averaged 50.6 points per game last season, including scoring 50 and 52 in its final two home contests. The high point total was accompanied by an average of 550.8 yards per game in the five home wins.
A win over St. Francis would give the team five consecutive victories at Hornet Stadium for the first time since winning the final three home games of 2000 and the first two in 2001.
Sacramento State found its way into a pair of preseason FCS top 25 polls and just outside the rankings in numerous others. The Hornets were ranked 19th in the Street & Smith's preview and 23rd by Athlon Sports.
In the most recognized polls, Sacramento State received 208 points in the STATS Top 25 which placed the team 33rd overall. The team was 32nd in the AFCA FCS coaches poll.
Since moving to Div. I, Sacramento State has only opened the season ranked in the top 25 one time. In 2011, the Hornets were 24th in the preseason media poll and stunned Oregon State in the opener. The team moved up to 12th the following week. The Hornets have not cracked the top 25 since Oct. 1, 2011.
Despite tying for third place last season and returning most of its starters, the Hornets were picked to finish fifth in the Big Sky Conference by the coaches and seventh by the media. Eastern Washington, Weber State and Northern Arizona were picked first, second and third, respectively, in both polls.
NEW HOMES FOR HORNET FOOTBALL
Fans of Hornet football will have a couple of new ways to follow the team in 2018. In July, the school announced that ESPN 1320 will serve as the new radio home for football and men's basketball. The crew of Jason Ross, Steve McElroy and Danny Sullivan will once again call the action. This season will mark the 22nd for Ross and McElroy.
All five Sacramento State home football games this season will also be televised by CW31. Dave Lewis will handle the play-by-play and will be joined in the booth by former Hornet and Arena League star Aaron Garcia.
The Hornets will also have three other games televised this season as part of the Big Sky package. The team's contests at Northern Colorado and UC Davis will be shown on Eleven Sports while the game at Montana will air on ROOT Sports as well as the Audience Network.
MR. HARRIEL, IF YOU'RE FORMAL
Safety Mister Harriel found his name in the spotlight several times this summer as the senior garnered preseason All-America and all-Big Sky honors by several publications.
Harriel was named to the STATS FCS All-America third team and was one of just 12 defensive backs to be recognized. He was also named to the Street & Smith's FCS preseason All-America team.
As a junior, the Sacramento native led the team with a career high 87 tackles which included five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Harriel added three interceptions and a pair of pass breakups while patrolling the middle of the field.
The Antelope HS graduate was one of the more consistent players on the team in 2017, recording at least three tackles in al 11 games. He had double-digit stops in three games, including 11 in the victory over UC Davis in the Causeway Classic.
Off the field, Harriel has become an internet sensation with his trick shots. He first went viral with a behind-the-back strike in bowling and has since added several basketball trick shots, including one which landed him on ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10.
CATCH THEM IF YOU CAN
The receiving duo of Andre Lindsey and Jaelin Ratliff finished last season ranked first and second, respectively in the FCS in yards per reception. Lindsey was the national leader at 30.2 ypc while Ratliff averaged 26.5 yards per grab. Both players eclipsed the previous Sacramento State single season record of 23.21 ypc by Kevin Fontes which had stood since 1982.
Lindsey wrapped up the year with 25 receptions for a team high 756 yards and seven touchdown catches. He also showcased his speed with a rushing TD during the year. The Stockton, Calif., native went on to win the Big Sky individual title in the 60-hurdles during the indoor track & field season and advanced to the second round of the NCAA West Preliminary in the 110-hurdles during the outdoor campaign.
Those numbers led to him earning one of three spots on the preseason all-Big Sky Conference team. He also garnered fourth team preseason FCS All-America honors from Phil Steele's College Football Preview.
Ratliff also had 25 receptions for 663 yards and four scores. He enters the season with 1,290 career receiving yards which places him 18th in school history.
The pair, who are both natives of Stockton, Calif., have combined for nine 100-yard games in their careers. However, they have yet to both go over the century mark in the same game.
Last season, Sacramento State led the FCS with 3.91 sacks per game. The team's total of 43 sacks in 11 games also set the school Div. I-era record and was the second most in program history — trailing only the 53 in 1986.
Leading the charge were defensive ends Ben Sorensen and George Obinna who finished the year ranked first and second in the league in sacks. Sorensen, who was a senior last season, finished with 10.0 sacks while Obinna was close behind at 8.5.
Obinna also tied for the team lead with 12.5 tackles-for-loss which helped him earn first team all-Big Sky honors at the end of the year. The Tracy, Calif., native was also selected as a preseason All-American by three services and earned preseason all-league accolades.
The Hornets also led the Big Sky and finished sixth nationally in turnover margin. The team was plus-14 during the year to set program record regardless of level.
Sacramento State tallied multiple takeaways in seven of the 11 games and wrapped up the year with 14 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Eleven Hornet players had a takeway this season with seven grabbing an interception and four recovering fumbles. Dre Terrell led the team and the Big Sky with five interceptions, Harriel has three and Malcolm Thomas has a pair of picks. Marcus Bruce recovered four fumble recoveries Seperine Aumua had two and Obinna and Sorensen had one.
On the other side, the Hornets had just nine turnovers last season which crushed the school single season record for fewest turnovers in a season of 13. Sacramento State QBs combined to throw five interceptions and the team has lost just four fumbles despite putting the ball on the ground 10 times. The interceptions and fumbles lost were also program bests.
EVERY WHICH WAY
Along with forcing the turnovers, Sacramento State also had a nose for the end zone as the team had five non-offensive touchdowns during the season which tied for the third most in the FCS.
Sacramento State scored in all three facets of the game in the 49-14 win over Cal Poly. The team scored five touchdowns on offense and also had blocked field goal for a score and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The game marked the first time that the team has had a touchdown on offense, defense and special teams since a 69-19 win over Saint Mary's in 2003. The Hornets had a punt return, an interception return and a fumble return against the Gaels that season.
Linebacker Marcus Bruce accounted for two of the non-offensive touchdowns as he recovered fumbles at North Dakota and Cal Poly. Earnest Jenkins scooped up the field goal against CP which was blocked by Marcus Kirkpatrick and Malcolm Thomas (Weber State) and Immanuel Anderson (Northern Colorado) both returned interceptions for scores
Overall, Sacramento State had 15 players score touchdowns during the season, including nine who found the end zone multiple times.
EXPERIENCED IN HIS ROLE
A year ago, Kevin Thomson headed into the season opener at Idaho a little rusty. The quarterback had not played in a game since his senior season of high school in 2013. Thomson's lack of game action was apparent against the Vandals as he was 10-of-21 for only 95 yards without a touchdown.
The next week, he bounced back with 320 yards and five passing touchdowns against Incarnate Word and two weeks later he was the FCS National Player of the Week against Southern Utah where he threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns and also rushed for 149 yards and four scores.
Thomson missed three games in the second half of the season with a fractured back but still managed to throw 17 touchdown passes during the season which tied him for sixth in program history. His efficiency of 171.8 was 20 points better than anyone in program history and he also set the school record with an average of 10.45 yards per pass (previous record was 8.37 ypp).
The Auburn, Wash., native was also a threat on the ground as he ranked second on the team with 494 rushing yards and led the Hornets with nine rushing touchdowns. His average of 9.14 yards of total offense per play set a school record and he moved into third place with 290.2 yards of total offense per game. Thomson accounted for 26 touchdowns which placed him fourth in the Sacramento State record book.
Thomson became the first Hornet QB to have consecutive 100-yard rushing games in school history and joined 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.
A YEAR UNDER THEIR BELTS
Sacramento State came into last season without a running back on the roster that had carried the ball in a game. The team turned a core group comprised of a graduate transfer and three freshmen into one of its best rushing seasons in school history. Along with quarterback Kevin Thomson, Sacramento State averaged 225.8 rushing yards per game and an impressive 5.0 yards per carry and 26 touchdowns. The per game average placed the Hornets 14th in the FCS and second in the Big Sky behind rush-heavy Cal Poly. The mark was the best for the team since averaging 234.9 in 1999.
The trio of Elijah Dotson, Bryant Perkinson and Isaiah Gable all return as sophomores this season and will likely be joined by true freshmen Montaz Thompson as the primary ball carriers. All three returnees as well as Thomson led the Hornets in rushing in a game last season.
Perkinson finished the year as the team's leading rusher despite playing in only eight games. The converted wide receiver had 85 attempts for 591 yards and four scores while averaging 7.0 yards per rush. His biggest performance came at Cal Poly where he had seven carries for 164 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown run.
Dotson did a little of everything for the team, compiling 1,107 all-purpose yards during the season to lead the team. The Sacramento native had 475 rushing yards, 139 receiving yards and 403 kick return yards. He had 124 rushing yards in the win over Northern Colorado and led the team with 92 in the Causeway Classic against UC Davis.
Gable had 384 yards in nine games. The 5-foot-4 running back served as a change of pace compared to his bigger backfield mates. He led the team in rushing at Eastern Washington and was a regular contributor until injuring his knee against UNC.
Thompson joined the team in the spring after sitting out the fall semester. He had a decorated high school career at Pittsburg HS where he was ranked as the third best running back in Northern California. He averaged over 10 yards per carry his final two seasons and scored 46 touchdowns.
ANDERSON, PEARSON CRACK TOP 20
The linebacking duo of Immanuel Anderson and Manoah Pearson both moved into the top 20 in school history in career tackles last season. The pair has started games since their freshman seasons and are both poised to end their career among the best in school history.
Anderson is currently 10th on the all-time list with 238 tackles. The senior began his career as a safety before taking over the rover position last season. He led the team with 107 tackles in 2016 and added 59 a year ago, including 10 for loss. The Vallejo, Calif., native has recorded a tackle in all 33 games of his career and has eight games with 10-plus stops.
Pearson moved into 19th place in program history at the end of last year. He has 198 career tackles but needs just eight to move into 15th place. The Carson, Calif., native has made at least 52 tackles each season. He earned honorable mention all-Big Sky last season and has seven career games with double digit tackles.
Senior Devon Medeiros was named second team all-Big Sky last season after tying the school record for field goals and recording the second most points by a kicker in program history. Medeiros was 14-of-17 on field goals during the year to pull even with Brad Cornish, Bret LeVier and Scott Brown in the Hornet record book. He also made 52 PATs to finish the season with 94 points.
Medeiros' .824 field goal percentage from last season was tied for third best in a single season and his .727 career mark is the fourth best in program history.
His first make of the year was his longest as he converted a 52-yarder at Idaho which was tied for second all-time by a Hornet and just a yard shy of the school record. Medeiros was also a weapon on kickoffs with 43 touchbacks during the season on 75 attempts.
Medeiros redshirted at Sacramento State in 2015 and appeared sparingly the following season where he was 0-of-3 on field goals. In 2016, he made a 44-yarder at Fresno State early in the year but injured his leg just two games into the season and was unable to return.
THE MEN UP FRONT
Sacramento State returns three starters from last year as well as two others who've made starts on the offensive line. The play of the o-line was a big reason for the team's success last season as Sacramento State averaged 5.0 yards per rush and allowed just 16 sacks in 11 games.
Seniors Ivan Espiritu, Wyatt Ming and Taylor Tappin are all slated to be back in the lineup this season. Espiritu will return at center and he's the only member of the unit to start every game the last two seasons.
Ming was named honorable mention all-Big Sky last year at guard. He played his first two collegiate seasons as a defensive tackle.
Tappin will shift from right tackle to left tackle where he had 15 consecutive starts.
Ruben Meza will return to the starting group at right tackle. Meza has 19 career starts and was part of the rotation a year ago.
Sophomore Thomas Parker will take over at left guard. Parker broke into the group last season and played both guard and tackle.
LET'S GO STREAKING
Sacramento State won four consecutive homes games in the same season for the first time since 1992. That season, the team was a perfect 5-0 at Hornet Stadium.
Sacramento State had at least two sacks in all 11 games last year.
Sacramento State has scored at least 34 points in every win of Sears' tenure.
JUST THE FACTS
In a vote by the team members, Sacramento State will have four captains this season. The quartet is comprised of Immanuel Anderson, Mister Harriel, George Obinna and Kevin Thomson.
The Hornets have a pair players who have already earned their bachelor's degree and are currently pursuing a master's. Punter Owen Hoolihan and linebacker Leonard Hazewood IV are both graduate transfers to the team after earning their degrees.
The NCAA has adopted a couple of new rules this season that will affect play. Teams may now fair catch a kickoff inside their own 20-yard line and have it serve as a touchback, placing the ball at the 25. Also, student-athletes may participate in up to four games and still redshirt during the season. It does not matter when the four games occur during the season and do not have to come in consecutive weeks.
Safety Austin Clark was forced to retire from football and is now serving as a student assistant.
JB Hall is the only new member of the coaching staff. Hall spent the last three seasons as the cornerbacks coach at Montana.
Sacramento State does not have any players from Illinois.
St. Francis has five players from California, including three from towns near Sacramento. Defensive back Chris Brown is from Marysville, Calif., and attended Yuba JC. Jusiah Gable is from Cottonwood, Calif., and graduated from West Valley HS (same as Austin Clark). Isaiah Williams is a graduate of Freedom HS in Brentwood, Calif.
Strangely, both teams have an Australian on their roster. The Hornets boast punter Owen Hoolihan (Oberon) while the Fighting Saints have quarterback Lachlan Poor (Perth).
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