SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Just when it seemed like nobody could hold on to the ball, Sac State held on for a 19-14 victory Saturday at Hornet Stadium.
The Hornets came out ahead of a strange second-half exchange featuring a safety, a field goal, a tipped pass interception and another fumble after the Wildcats went into halftime tied with an opponent for the first time this season.
Sacramento State (5-2, 3-1 Big Sky) is off to its best start since 1991; Weber State (0-7, 0-4 Big Sky) is getting closer but still hunting for its first win of the year.
Garrett Safron’s 25-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Knowles with 7:12 remaining gave Sac State the insurance it needed to fend off the hungry Wildcats, who lost by their closest margin this season — five free points which were the result of the safety and a field goal.
“Our kids played with a lot of energy, very consistent as a team,” Weber State interim coach Jody Sears said. “We had a couple breakdowns on the special teams that gave them two points, they got a big return on that kickoff in the second half (that set up the field goal). I’m really proud of the kids, there’s no doubt about it, but we’ve got to take care of some silly mistakes.”
Safron threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns without an interception and the Hornets’ defense sacked Weber State quarterback Mike Hoke five times and kept the Wildcats out of the end zone following two fumbles coughed up by their offense in the second half.
Hoke completed 19 of 35 passes for 135 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but pass protection is an ongoing weakness for WSU, which entered the game with the most sacks allowed by opponents in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Sacramento State snapped a third-quarter tie when Weber State lined up to punt deep in its own territory and long snapper Trevor Pletcher snapped the ball through the end zone for a safety.
The Hornets looked like they were about to break open the game when DeAndre Carter returned the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to the 12 yard line, but the Wildcats’ defense forced them to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Edgar Castaneda for a 12-7 lead with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Anthony Morales forced Safron to fumble and Adam Padilla recovered, but Sacramento State got it right back when Osagie Odiase intercepted a tipped pass.
The Wildcats took the ball away one more time in the fourth quarter when Chris Wheeler forced another fumble and Roman Valenzuela recovered, but again, Weber State had to punt it back and Sac State finally broke the turnover cycle with Safron’s 25-yard touchdown pass to Knowles to go up 19-7 midway through the fourth quarter.
The ’Cats kept hope alive when Hoke completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Erik Walker on fourth and 3 with 3:59 remaining to finish an 11-play, 75-yard drive and close the gap to 19-14, but Sac State ran the ball up the middle to run out the clock for the win.
Weber State surprised Sac State with an on-side kick to open the second half. David James recovered, but the Wildcats came away empty-handed when Shaun McClain missed what would have been a career-long 47-yard field goal attempt.
The game was scoreless at the end of an uneventful first quarter but Weber State had already begun a 14-play, 71-yard drive that C.J. Tuckett capped with a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Hornets began the ensuing possession by going backward with consecutive personal foul penalties, but they converted a third and 22 on a late hit flag thrown against Weber State and marched into Wildcats’ territory with help from a false start penalty against WSU on fourth and one.
They didn’t get any help, however, when Saffron tried a sneak on another fourth and one at Weber State’s 23-yard line and was stopped by Connor Myers.
After the Wildcats punted it back to give the Hornets the ball near midfield, linebacker Obi Owoh lost his helmet while chasing Saffron on a third and 11. Owoh made the stop but was charged with a personal foul for continuing to participate and Sac State took advantage with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Safron to Ezekiel Graham with under a minute left in the half.
Weber State continues its two-game road stretch next Saturday against Southern Utah in Cedar City.
• WSU NOTES: Defensive lineman Adam Sagapolutele-White did not play Saturday because of a violation of team rules.
Sacramento State 19,
Weber State 14
At Sacramento, Calif.
Weber State 0 7 0 7 — 14
Sacramento State 0 7 5 7 — 19
Weber State—Tuckett 1 run (McClain kick), 12:21.
Sac State—Graham 13 pass from Safron (Castaneda kick), :56.
Sac State—Safety, 4:32.
Sac State—Castaneda 22 field goal, 2:20.
Sac State—Knowles 25 pass from Safron (Castaneda kick), 7:12.
Weber State—Walker 17 pass from Hoke (McClain kick), 3:59.
WSU Sac St.
First downs 16 19
Rushes-yards 41-102 37-117
Passing 135 193
Comp-Att-Int 19-36-1 22-27-0
Return yards 9 39
Punts-avg. 7-40.3 5-40.0
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 6-63 7-65
Time of possession 30:06 29:54
Rushing—Weber State, Tuckett 20-64, Parham 3-15, Booker 5-13, Hoke 12-13, Team 1-(minus 3). Sacramento State, Coleman 13-74, Safron 10-25, Graham 10-24, Ellis 1-(minus 1), Team 3-(minus 5).
Passing—Weber State, Hoke 19-35-1-135, Team 0-1-0-0. Sacramento State, Safron 21-26-0-182, Weldon 1-1-0-11.
Receiving—Weber State, Tuckett 4-8, Clemente 3-18, Walker 2-44, Papanikolas 2-28, X.Johnson 2-24, Fowler 2-11, Jankowski 2-2, Parham 1-0, Sorenson 1-0. Sacramento State, Graham 7-54, Norrise 6-58, Knowles 5-46, D.Carter 1-16, Harrison 1-11, Robertson 1-6, Coleman 1-2.