FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The No. 8 Sacramento State football team trailed by 10 points with less than two minutes to play before rallying for a pair of late touchdowns and a 38-34 win at Northern Arizona on Saturday at the Walkup Skydome.
The Hornets improved to 7-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big Sky Conference. Northern Arizona dropped to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in league games.
Trailing, 34-24, the Hornets forced NAU to punt and Daron Bland gave the team a chance with a 44-yard return to put the ball at the Northern Arizona 37. Jake Dunniway, who was making his first start at Sacramento State, hit Elijah Dotson for a 7-yard gain before finding Isaiah Gable for a 30-yard touchdown pass to draw the team within three (34-31) with 1:38 remaining.
The Hornets lined up for an onsides kick, and, after an NAU timeout, Devon Medeiros got the perfect bounce to allow Pierre Williams to go up and pull down the kick at the NAU 49. Needing a field goal to force overtime, Dunniway instead hit Dotson for 15 yards before passes of 7 and 9 yards to Gable to bring the ball to the 18. After an incompletion, he connected with Williams near the 5-yard line and the sophomore beat the defender to the pylon for the go-ahead score with 23 seconds left.
Northern Arizona had one final drive and a desperation hook-and-lateral play ended when the Hornets recovered a fumble to seal the game.
"The guys just continued to compete, especially on special teams. The two special teams plays (the punt return and onsides kick) were incredibly big, and they were really the difference." Sacramento State head coach Troy Taylor said. "We scored pretty quickly after the punt return and I knew there was plenty of time. Once we got the onsides kick, Jake made some good throws and we protected well and the rest is history."
Sacramento State got off to a great start, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives with passes to tight end Marshel Martin. The first came when Martin found himself wide open in the middle of the field. The redshirt freshman caught the ball around the 30-yard line and then jogged into the end zone for a 63-yard strike.
After the defense forced a 3-and-out, the Hornet offense used eight plays to travel 80 yards to take a 14-0 lead. Parker Clayton had a 33-yard catch along the right sideline for the big play of the series. Martin had his second score with a strike in the middle of the end zone. That touchdown catch gave him six this season and tied him with Chris Kelly for the most by a Hornet tight end in program history.
The 14-0 lead held until early in the second quarter when the Lumberjack defense set the table for the offense. Chris Jules sacked Dunniway at the Hornet 24-yard line and was able to recover the fumble. NAU then took seven plays to travel 24 yards which resulted in a 1-yard rush from Joe Logan.
Sacramento State had an immediate answer with a 12-play drive that used over five minutes of clock. The team, however, settled for a 41-yard field goal from Devon Medeiros to extend the Hornet lead to 17-7.
The Lumberjacks needed only three plays to score a touchdown and pull within 17-14. The drive started with a 14-yard completion to Brandon Porter. Logan then did the rest with a 15-yard rush and a 51-yard dash around the right side of his line.That carry was the longest allowed by running back against Sacramento State this season.
Both teams slowed in the final minutes of the half. Sacramento State had sacks from George Obinna and Marcus Bruce to halt a scoring opportunity and force a punt. The Hornets then had a chance to run out the half but a quick 3-and-out gave the ball back to NAU which tied the game on a 44-yard field goal from Luis Aguilar.
Sacramento State retook the lead with an eight-play drive to start the second half. Dunniway found Gable for a 32-yard pass to take ball inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, BJ Perkinson bounced his way to the front right corner of the end zone.
The Hornets took that lead into the fourth quarter and began the period with the ball in NAU territory. However, Dunniway was intercepted by Anthony Sweeney to end a potential scoring opportunity. One play later, Cookus threw a 73-yard strike to Stacy Chukwumezie to tie the game, 24-24, with 13:51 remaining.
NAU took its first lead on its next offensive series. The Hornets stopped the Lumberjacks on third down but Luis Aguilar boomed a 54-yard field goal to take a 27-24 advantage. Momentum stayed with NAU as they held the Hornets to a 3-and-out and Logan gave the Lumberjacks a 34-24 lead with a 63-yard TD rush at the 5:42 mark.
Dunniway finished the game with 384 passing yards while completing 27-of-44 passes. Williams led the team with seven receptions for 78 yards while Martin had four receptions for a team-high 92 yards and two touchdowns. Dotson led the ground attack wiht 83 rushing yards and also had five receptions for 52 yards. Perkinson had 50 rushing yards.
The Hornets dominated the statistics, finishing the game with 529 yards of total offense compared to 398 from NAU. Sacramento State also had a 37:43-22:17 lead in time of possession and limited the nation's top passing offense to 186 yards.
Sacramento State will remain on the road next week, playing at Idaho on Nov. 16 at 1 p.m. PST. The team will close the regular season on Nov. 23 at home with the annual Causeway Classic against UC Davis.
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