Three’s company at Sac State

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.

Carson Camp made a case to start in 2024 with a solid relief effort in Sacramento State’s loss to South Dakota on Saturday.

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.

Hornets try to stretch season

Sacramento State has not reached the end of the road, but the Hornets are facing a familiar pothole. Saturday’s 42-35 victory at North Dakota earned the Hornets a second game in the FCS playoffs for the third time since 2019, but they have yet to play a third game.

The Hornets will return to the Midwest for that second game this week and face third-seeded South Dakota in Vermillion. The Coyotes are 9-2 and rallied at home to beat North Dakota 14-10 on Nov. 11. Sacramento State and South Dakota will meet for the first time.

This season has not been like the past two for the Hornets. They brought an eight-game winning streak in the 2021 playoffs to earn a first-round bye and then lost to South Dakota State. They were 12-0 last year after a first-round win over Richmond and then lost 66-63 to Incarnate Word. The Hornets and Cardinals combined for 57 points in the fourth quarter.

Kaiden Bennett threw for 207 yards and rushed for 126 on Saturday to propel the Hornets to a 42-35 victory at North Dakota.

Sacramento State was lucky just to make the 24-team playoffs this season, much less receive a bye or a home game, after going 7-4 in the regular season and losing 31-21 to UC Davis in the Causeway Classic. That left the Hornets with a 1,743-mile trip to Grand Forks.

Finding their way to the Alterus Center was far easier than trying to figure out who would start at quarterback against the Fighting Hawks. Freshman Carson Conklin started the previous two games, but he was pulled at halftime against UC Davis with a 17-0 deficit.

Junior Kaiden Bennett threw three touchdown passes in the second half, the third making it 24-14 with 5:45 to play. The Hornets gambled on their next possession by going for it on fourth-and-12 at their 18-yard line, but Bennett’s pass intended for wide receiver Carlos Hill fell incomplete.

Lan Larison scored on a 12-yard run with 3:30 remaining for his fourth touchdown of the day to put the game away. The Aggies snapped a three-game losing streak against the Hornets.

Bennett’s start Saturday was his ninth of the season and he made the most of it. The Folsom High School graduate passed for 207 yards, ran for 126 and accounted for three touchdowns. The third was a 4-yard scamper for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:45 to go.

Tight end Marshel Martin IV wrapped his arms around Bennett at the 2-yard line and pulled him into the end zone. Bennett accounted for 63 of 75 yards during the seven-play drive by completing all of his three passes for 40 yards and gaining 23 on three carries.

Bennett has run for 100 or more yards in three games this season. He surpassed senior Marcus Fulcher on Saturday for the team lead in rushing yards with 578. Fulcher has 527.

Insider information for Hornets

Sacramento State has not played North Dakota since 2019, but the Hornets will know all about the Fighting Hawks before the teams tangle in the FCS playoffs Saturday in Grand Forks. Sacramento State happens to have an inside source with an updated scouting report.

And the Hornets need all the help they can get after losing 31-21 to UC Davis in the Causeway Classic on Saturday. Sacramento State was among the last four teams to get into the playoffs when the 24-team bracket was announced Sunday despite being ranked 10th in the latest FCS poll. UC Davis was among the final four teams to be snubbed.

Quarterback Carson Camp may be of assistance for Sacramento State because he faced North Dakota in 2021 when he was starting for South Dakota. And he led the Coyotes to a 20-13 victory by throwing for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Camp lost the starting job in 2022, however, and jumped into the transfer portal.

UC Davis linebacker Nick Eaton only has eyes for Sacramento State’s Carson Conklin.

Sacramento State was the ideal place for a quarterback trying to resurrect his college career. The Hornets were in need of a starter after the tag team of Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara guided Sacramento State to consecutive Big Sky Conference championships.

Kaiden Bennett was the heir apparent after paying his dues for two years. Camp won the job, however, and started the season opener at Nicholls State. His 26-yard run was the big play during the Hornets’ first possession as they drove 75 yards to take a 7-0 lead.

Bennett split time with Camp and made his case to become the starter. Bennett completed 11 of 16 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Camp was 5-of-11 for 35 yards and threw an interception in the third quarter that Nicholls State turned into a touchdown.

That score cut Sacramento State’s lead to 17-10. Bennett regained momentum for the Hornets with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Jared Gipson with 58 seconds to go in the quarter. Bennett started the following week against Texas A&M-Commerce, led Sacramento State to a 30-23 win at Stanford on Sept. 16 and held the job for the next six games.

Camp dropped to third on the depth chart when freshman Carson Conklin started over Bennett against Cal Poly on Nov. 11. Conklin earned the start by throwing for 235 yards and three touchdowns after relieving Bennett in the Hornets’ 51-16 win over Idaho State.

Conklin passed for 313 yards and three touchdowns in the 41-30 victory over Cal Poly. The Hornets had more trouble putting the Mustangs away than UC Davis did in beating Cal Poly 31-13 on Sept. 30. The Aggies were in cruise control after leading 24-7 at halftime.

UC Davis also had a 17-point halftime lead against Sacramento State. Conklin’s day ended at the half with a 17-0 deficit. He was 13-of-25 for 129 yards and his last pass was intercepted by UC Davis linebacker Teddye Buchanan with 52 seconds to go in the half.

Bennett gave Sacramento State a bit of hope in the second half by throwing for 232 yards and three touchdowns. His performance leaves the Hornets with having to decide who will start against North Dakota. The safe bet is it will not be Camp.