FOOTBALL DOWNS No. 21 NORTHERN ARIZONA, 27-24 FOR BIG SKY VICTORY
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento State used a trick and took advantage of some treats in all three facets of the game en route to a 27-24 win over No. 21 Northern Arizona, Saturday afternoon at Hornet Stadium.
The victory improved Sacramento State to 3-5 on the season and 3-3 in the Big Sky Conference. It also marked the first time the Hornets defeated a ranked opponent since bettering No. 17 Montana State on Nov. 6, 2004. The Lumberjacks dropped to 5-3 overall and 4-2 in conference.
The Hornets used a trick play on a fake punt from Augie Heath in the first half to set up its first score and then relied on the play of true freshman running back Sam McCowan and defensive end Christian Clark the rest of the way. McCowan — who was the only healthy running back available — carried the ball 27 times for 130 yards and a touchdown. Clark recorded a school record four sacks for a combined loss of 30 yards. The Hornets also had their best special teams day of the year as McCowan had a 62-yard kickoff return and Heath placed four punts inside the 20-yard line.
Sacramento State trailed 24-17 at halftime due in part to three first half turnovers which led to 17 Lumberjack points. The Hornets tied the game on their first drive of the second half with a 23-yard field goal from Chris Diniz. The team took the lead for good when Jason Smith snuck over the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line with 2:09 to play in the third.
In the fourth quarter, the Sacramento State defense responded with two interceptions and then held on the final drive to preserve the win. Durrell Oliver grabbed the first pick to stop an NAU drive in Hornet territory and Zach Schrader pulled in his third of the year on the next drive. Prior to the game, NAU quarterback Michael Herrick had only been intercepted three times this season and had gone 175 attempts without an interception before Olliver's grab.
Leading by three with just over three minutes to play, Sacramento State opted to punt on 4th-and-5 from the NAU 38. Heath's punt was downed at the Lumberjack 4-yard line setting up the final drive. Herrick rushed for 14 yards on 3rd-and-10 and later hit Conrad Meadows for a 10-yard gain on 4th-and-3. His final pass to Ed Berry placed the ball at the Hornet 38-yard line setting up Matt Myers' 55-yard attempt which sailed wide right as time expired.
The first half saw NAU take a 7-0 lead to start the game with a quick 9-play, 86-yard drive which ended with a 30-yard grab from Meadows. The Hornets answered back with a 42-yard pass from Jason Smith to Brandyn Reed and then took a 10-7 advantage on a 22-yard field goal from Diniz.
McCowan scored from 6-yards out early in the second quarter to stretch the Hornet advantage to 17-7 but a pair of interceptions from Smith and a fumble on a punt return allowed the Lumberjacks to score two touchdowns and field goal prior to the break.
McCowan became the fifth Sacramento State running back to go over the century mark since 2008. He joins Bryan Hilliard, Evander Wilkins, Jake Croxdale and Terrance Dailey, who are all on the roster. Smith finished the day 14-of-30 for 210 yards while John Hendershott caught five passes for 106 yards.
Clark's day included eight total tackles which tied his career high and a career best six solos. His four sacks broke the school's Div. I-AA/FCS era record of 3.5 which was held set by Tyson Butler in 2005.
Dorian Brown also recorded a career high with 10 tackles and tied for the team lead with Peter Buck.
Sacramento State will next go on the road for a pair of games beginning on Nov. 7 at Northern Colorado. The team will close out the year at home on Nov. 21 against UC Davis in the 56th annual Causeway Classic.
NOTES: Diniz made two field goals and is now 9-of-9 on the year…Sacramento State was called for a season-low two penalties for just 10 yards — its lowest total since being whistled for 9 yards against Saint Mary's in 2001…the Hornets shut out an opponent in the second half for the first time since Oct. 14, 2006…the home team has now won the last five meetings in the series…freshman Jeff Badger, who began the year at linebacker, carried the ball three times for four yards as the team's backup running back.