Taylor-made job for coach

Sacramento State had no business being in Friday night’s FCS quarterfinal game against Incarnate Word until the final play. Four turnovers, one being a fumble the Cardinals returned for a touchdown, should have spoiled the Hornets’ 12-0 season long before a Hail Mary pass by Jake Dunniway fell incomplete in the end zone as time expired.

The odds of the Hornets overcoming four turnovers to win were about as slim as any chance of Sacramento State persuading Troy Taylor into turning down an offer to become the coach at Stanford. The gossip Friday at Hornet Stadium was that Stanford was simply waiting for the end of Sacramento State’s season to seal the deal with Taylor.

Not only is Taylor more than qualified for the job, but Stanford landed the former Cal quarterback just a year after the Golden Bears gave Justin Wilcox a six-year contract extension. Most folks figured Taylor would only leave Sacramento State for Cal, but the Golden Bears are stuck with Wilcox for the next five years unless they buy him out.

Like most coaches on the hot seat, Wilcox let two of his assistants take the fall when this season took a turn for the worse. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and offensive line coach Angus McClure were fired after a 38-10 loss at Oregon State on Nov. 12 left Cal at 3-7 with a six-game losing streak. The Golden Bears salvaged a modicum of pride by beating Stanford 27-20 and Cal fans need to savor that.

Taylor will see to that not happening again any time soon in the Big Game. His three-year stay at Sacramento State ended with a 66-63 loss to Incarnate Word, but Taylor kept the Hornets in the game by realizing his offense would have to keep pace with the high-powered Cardinals when his defense was incapable of stopping them.

Sacramento State lost despite a record-setting offensive show orchestrated by Taylor. The Hornets rewrote their record book with 738 yards of total offense, 109 offensive plays and 49 first downs. The four turnovers were costly as Incarnate Word turned three of them into points, including Kelechi Anyakebechi’s 55-yard return of an O’Hara fumble that stretched the Cardinals’ lead to 59-48 with 8:30 to go in the game.

The touchdown was the fourth in less than four minutes. Sacramento State trailed 45-41 with 12:30 left after running back Cameron Skattebo caught a lateral from Dunniway and lofted a 19-yard scoring pass to tight end Marshel Martin. After the Hornets gambled with an onside kick and recovered it, Martin found the end zone again by catching a 14-yard pass from Dunniway. Sacramento State led 48-45 – for all of 49 seconds.

Marcus Cooper put Incarnate Word back on top with a 67-yard touchdown dash. After Anyalebechi’s fumble return, Sacramento State answered with Dunniway’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Williams and Martin’s 4-yard scoring run with 1:43 left. The Cardinals needed just 76 seconds to go 75 yards for the final score – a 21-yard pass from Lindsey Scott Jr. to Taylor Grimes. Scott has almost as many rushing yards (176) as he did passing (219).

Scott threw four touchdown passes, boosting his season total to 59, and ran for two scores. Incarnate Word will travel to North Dakota State for a semifinal showdown at 4 p.

Travels, trials and triumphs

Standing between Sacramento State and the FCS semifinals is Lindsey Scott Jr. The Incarnate Word quarterback has thrown for 4,185 yards and 55 touchdowns this season. Sacramento State’s tag team of Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara has combined for 2,904 yards and 27 touchdowns. Let’s just say Scott will have an advantage when the two teams clash in a quarterfinal game at Hornet Stadium.

Incarnate Word is the No. 7 seed and pulled out a 41-38 victory against Furman last week. Kole Wilson turned a pass from Scott into a 32-yard touchdown with 1:54 left to lift the Cardinals (11-1). Sacramento State (12-0) is the No. 2 seed and needed O’Hara’s 51-yard scoring pass to Pierre Williams with 6:28 left to beat Richmond 38-31. Dunniway threw for a season-high 317 yards and three scores.

Scott has also traveled much more than Dunniway or O’Hara. Dunniway is a Tracy High graduate who redshirted at UC Davis in 2017 and then played one season at San Diego Mesa Community College before coming to Sacramento. O’Hara played one season at College of DuPage, which is near his hometown of Rolling Meadows, Ill., and then transferred to Middle Tennessee State before coming to California.

Lindsey Scott Jr. has thrown 55 touchdown passes this season.

They have nothing on Scott, the Louisiana native who redshirted at LSU in 2016. He played one season at East Mississippi Community College and then transferred to Missouri, where he did not play. His next stop was Nicholls State, but he could not play in 2019 because of the NCAA transfer rules. Scott started for the Colonels in the spring of 2021 (which did not count against his eligibility) and last fall before coming to Incarnate Word as a graduate transfer.

Scott has also rushed for 466 yards and seven touchdowns, so he has accounted for 76 percent (62 of 81) of Incarnate Word’s touchdowns this season. Sacramento State can counter with O’Hara, who has run for 850 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was the Hornets’ leading rusher against Richmond with 53 yards on 15 carries. Sacramento State was held to a season-high 72 yards rushing last Saturday.

Sacramento State had to shuffle its offensive line because left tackle Troy Stiefel was sidelined with an injury. Left guard Jackson Slater moved to left tackle, right guard Brandon Weldon switched to left guard and Kenndel Riley started at right guard. Stiefel did not practice this week, so it is unlikely he will be available.

Cameron Skattebo had his worst game of the season with 21 yards on nine carries. The sophomore was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year after leading the conference in rushing yards with 1,251. The Hornets are averaging 235.8 yards per game on the ground and had a season-high 472 yards of total offense against Richmond. Incarnate Word averages 585 yards of total offense.

Incarnate Word had 613 yards against Furman with Scott accounting for 518 (394 passing and a season-high 124 rushing). He tossed five touchdown passes, his seventh game with five or more this season.