Carson Camp started the 2023 season at quarterback for Sacramento State and finished it Saturday in a stadium he once called home. The junior transfer from South Dakota returned to Grand Forks for a second-round FCS playoff game and did all he could to spark the Hornets, but his effort was not enough in a 34-24 loss to his former team.
Camp made just his fourth appearance of the season after Kaiden Bennett was injured and exited in the second quarter. Turnabout must be fair play because Bennett replaced Camp in the second quarter of the Aug. 31 opener at Nicholls State. Camp was pulled after struggling in his debut with the Hornets and Bennett came to the rescue.
Bennett made a case to become the starter by throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third in a 38-24 victory. His first start came a week later in a 34-6 win over Texas A&M-Commerce and Bennett again delivered, throwing for 176 yards and rushing for 101. His two touchdown runs propelled the Hornets to a 24-0 lead at halftime.
His second start was even better. Bennett threw for 279 yards and ran for 100 in a 30-23 victory at Stanford. His footwork went beyond his 13 carries. Bennett scrambled out of a sack and flipped a pass to running back Marcus Fulcher, who did the rest for a 49-yard touchdown with 1:32 to play.
The spotlight shifted to Carson Conklin, however, after the true freshman relieved Bennett in a 51-16 victory at Idaho State on Oct. 28. Conklin threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns to put himself in line for more playing time. Conklin made his first start Nov. 11 in a 41-30 win over Cal Poly and rewarded the coaches for putting their faith in him.
Some folks will say the Hornets were not risking that much by going with Conklin because the Mustangs were 1-5 in the Big Sky Conference. The game was much closer than expected, so Conklin made the difference by passing for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
Conklin did not come close to those numbers against UC Davis in the Causeway Classic on Nov. 18. He got the hook at halftime with the Aggies leading 17-0 after going 13-of-25 for 137 yards. Bennett completed 19 of 28 passes for 232 yards and three touchdowns in the second half as the Hornets salvaged a smidgen of pride.
Bennett was incredible in a 42-35 win at North Dakota in the first round of the playoffs, accounting for three touchdowns with 333 yards of total offense. His injury Saturday might have had a silver lining because the offense was in need of a jump-start. The first four possessions ended in two punts, an interception and a fumble that South Dakota returned for a touchdown to take a 17-0 lead.
Camp provided it on the ensuing possession by throwing for 36 yards and running for 24 as the Hornets drove 75 yards to score their first touchdown with 9:31 to play in the second quarter. His effort did not rescue the Hornets, but it makes for quite a quarterback battle when the Hornets reconvene to prepare for the 2024 season.
The Hornets essentially had two starting quarterbacks the past two seasons with Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara. Now let’s see if they can juggle three.