Hornets put faith in kicker

Missing a field goal on the next play of the first half was bad. Sitting in the locker room at halftime and wondering how many of his Sacramento State teammates were thinking he had let them down was far worse. That the miss was a chip shot from 20 yards only added to Kyle Sentkowski’s agony of the foot.

A 20-yard field goal is the same distance as an extra-point kick. Sentkowski did not miss a PAT in 2021, converting 39 for 39 to become the first kicker in program history to be perfect with at least 30 attempts. He laughed when asked if his 20-yard miss should count as a PAT attempt and erase the record.

“It might as well be,” quipped Sentkowski, who arrived at Sacramento State after two seasons at College of the Siskiyous and redshirted in 2019. The Hornets opted not to play in 2020 because of COVID-19.

Sentkowski waited two years to finally get to kick for the Hornets and then made four of five field goals in the first two games. He made three field goals in as many attempts against Northern Iowa in his home debut on Sept. 11. Then came the bus ride to Berkeley as the Hornets tested their luck against Cal.

Kyle Sentkowski

Sacramento State proved equal to the task in the first half, especially after Cal scored touchdowns on its first two possessions. The Hornets trailed 14-6 in the second quarter when an interception by Munchie Filer III gave them a shot in the arm. Sentkowski then shot himself in the foot by shanking a 37-yard field goal.

Cal stretched its lead to 21-6 by going 85 yards in just three plays to score with 4:01 to play in the first half. That left more than enough time for the Hornets to mount a drive and they did just that, going 65 yards in 11 plays as quarterback Jake Dunniway completed four of seven passes for 52 yards. The drive stalled inside Cal’s 10-yard line, but settling for three points was still a bone for an underdog.

Sentkowski buried it, however, when he missed from 20 yards out. He probably would have rather crawled under a rock than join his teammates in the locker room at halftime, but that is when he learned where he stood with the Hornets. His teammates had his back after he cost them six points.

“The offense is doing its job and getting us down there,” Sentkowski said Tuesday as the Hornets prepared for Saturday’s opener against Utah Tech at 7:30 p.m. “And to be so close, you almost feel like you wasted their opportunity. Twenty- and 30-yarders are chip shots. They should be easy in your sleep.”

Those misses could have haunted Sentkowski to the extent of worrying if head coach Troy Taylor would go with another kicker. A 2-yard touchdown run by Quarterback Asher O’Hara in the third quarter gave Sentkowski an opportunity to regain his confidence with a simple PAT. The Hornets were going to go for a two-point conversion, but a holding penalty left Sentkowski with a 31-yard extra point.

His kick split the uprights. So did his 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Sacramento State scored a meaningless touchdown with 1:28 to play to make Cal’s 42-30 victory appear closer than it was.

“(Taylor) sent me out for a 43-yarder and that was pretty encouraging,” said Sentkowski, who attended Blaine High School in Washington. “We needed a lot of points, but he sent me out there to get three. For me that was like Taylor saying, ‘Hey, we trust you.’”

Sentkowski missed just one field goal in the remaining nine games and finished the season 21 of 25. He set school records for most field goals and points (102) in a season. He was a first-team selection to the All-Big West Conference team.

Taylor admits he is not a “kicking expert,” but he realizes how those misses could have derailed Sentkowski. “You miss two in a row and it’s like ‘Whats going on here?’” Taylor said. “He’s a pretty even keel kid. That (20-yarder) was the last kick he missed for quite a whole. He got on a string. He’s special.”

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