Football falls short at Sacramento State
By HEATHER KENNEDY
SACRAMENTO -- In its final nonconference game of the season, Northern Colorado Football couldn't quite hang on to an early lead, falling 28-17 at Sacramento State.
The Bears (1-2) start Big Sky Conference play next week at No. 3 Montana State (3-0), which defeated No. 23 Stephen F. Austin 43-35 in Bozeman earlier Saturday.
Northern Colorado had a 10-7 lead in the second quarter Saturday, but the Hornets scored three straight touchdowns -- one in each subsequent quarter for a 28-10 advantage.
Junior running back Tromaine Dennis (Jersey City, N.J.) bowled into the end zone from one yard with 8:11 left in the game to pull the Bears within 11, at 28-17, but that was the end of the scoring.
Northern Colorado had 399 yards of total offense, outgaining Sacramento State (341). The Hornets took advantage of turnovers, getting four compared to two for the Bears.
Senior Dominic Gunn (Aurora, Colo.) once again proved to be the do-everything player for the Bears, notching 196 all-purpose yards. He had 87 punt-return yards -- with 74 coming on one return for a touchdown -- 77 yards on kickoff returns and 32 yards on two catches.
In the last two games, Gunn has amassed 389 all-purpose yards, pushing him over 3,000 for his career (3,094).
The 74-yard punt return was the first touchdown for Gunn in that role and surpasses his previous long return of 69 yards from last week against Colorado Mesa.
"It feels good to come out and do what we do in practice all week," Gunn said. "Me being a big return man, I always want to make a play for our team, but the end result is all that matters."
Junior quarterback Seth Lobato (Eaton, Colo.) completed 30 of 54 passes for 327 yards in the loss, but he was sacked twice and threw three interceptions.
Junior wide receiver Jace Davis (Lone Tree, Colo.) caught 10 of those passes for 123 yards, marking the fourth-time in his career he's topped 100 yards in a game through the air.
On defense, junior linebacker Clarence Bumpas (Colorado Springs, Colo.) returned to his double-digit ways, notching 12 tackles with one tackle for loss.
Junior Tyler Dogins (Bakersfield, Calif.) was second on the team with eight stops, and both senior Marcel Gibbons (Colorado Springs) and sophomore Mykel Morse (Parker, Colo.) had two pass break-ups each.
Dennis once again led the ground game for the Bears, rushing 14 times for 69 yards. He had no negative carries, but Northern Colorado rushed for just 72 total yards.
Sacramento State quarterback Garrett Safron completed 16 of 30 passes with one interception to Jordan Bible (Aurora). His favorite target was Morris Norrise, who had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Ezekiel Graham led Sacramento State with 98 rushing yards.
Sacramento State recovered a fumble on the Bears' second play from scrimmage and scored on the ensuing play, a 40-yard pass from Safron to Norrise for a 7-0 lead with 13:51 to play.
Senior punter Mason Puckett (Mililani, Hawai'i) later had a 47-yard punt to Sac. State's DeAndre Carter, who returned it 19 yards before Northern Colorado sophomore Courtney Hall (Pompano Beach, Fla.) forced a fumble that Matt Gackle (Colorado Springs) recovered.
The fumble set up a career-best 46-yard field goal by Dave Eden (Westminster) at 9:18 in the first quarter to make the score 7-3.
The Bears then took the lead on Gunn's 74-yard punt return for touchdown. Eden made extra point for the 10-7 lead at the 12:52 mark of the second quarter.
Two 15-yard penalties by the Bears helped Sacramento State drive 48 yards on 10 plays and regain the lead on a six-yard rush by Sam McCowan with 5:56 to play in the first half.
The Bears were penalized nine times for 92 yards in the second quarter. Northern Colorado was whistled just twice for 25 yards of penalty the rest of the game.
"In the past we were too soft and too passive, and we tried to ratchet that up," Bears coach Earnest Collins Jr. said. "Now that we have it ratcheted up, you can always bring it back down. We've got to get [the players] to understand we can't give up a touchdown on two personal fouls."
With 6:31 to play in the third quarter, Safron found Carter on a 14-yard pass over the middle to give the Hornets a 21-10 lead.
Safron and Carter have connected for a score in each of Sacramento State's games this season.
Davis then stole an interception away from the Hornets' defense late in the third quarter, making a leaping catch over Osagie Odiase for a 29-yard gain late. However, the Bears were unable to take advantage on the scoreboard and turned it over on downs.
On the following drive, the Hornets went 69 yards in three plays for a 28-10 lead with 12:11 to play.
Dennis then bowled into the endzone for his fourth touchdown of the year from one-yard out with 8:11 on the clock as the Bears pulled within 11, 28-17. The drive for the Bears went 85 yards in 13 plays.
The Bears were within striking distance of the end zone late in the fourth quarter, on the 15-yard line with just over three minutes to play, but Sacramento State's defense came up with a sack and a pick to end the drive and Northern Colorado's threat.
"We've just got to take a look at what we're doing, whether it's too much or whether it's not enough and figure that piece out so we can get it fixed," Collins Jr. said. "And I have every confidence that we will get it fixed. It's just about us making some adjustments and making some changes and we'll be fine."