Depth has been paying dividends for Sacramento State’s offense this season with 15 players scoring touchdowns – seven did so last Saturday in a 51-16 victory over Idaho State – and eight linemen starting at least one game. Center Nathan Mejia and left guard Jackson Slater are the only linemen to start at the same position in each game.
Slater has started 30 consecutive games dating to 2019. The only lineman with a longer streak is fellow junior Ivan Garza, who has started each game this season and 32 in a row. He has split his eight starts evenly between left and right tackle this season.
Aidan Meek started at right tackle in the season opener at Nicholls State, but the sophomore broke his clavicle in that game. He returned to start at right guard Oct. 14 at Northern Colorado and moved back to right tackle the following week against Montana State.
Right guard Kendall Riley also started and was injured in the opener. He returned in the 40-32 loss to Montana State. Kaden Richardson filled in for Riley at right guard for four games. The junior is the son of Hornets offensive line coach Kris Richardson and the little brother of Kooper, the former Hornets tackle who now assists his father.
Trey Stiefel and Jordan Stanley have also come to the rescue on the line. Stiefel started three games at left tackle when Garza switched to the right side. Stanley has made two starts at right tackle. He left Sacramento State after playing with the Hornets in 2019 and returned as a senior this season to be reunited with his twin brother Jett.
Jett Stanley is a defensive lineman who has started 33 consecutive games, the longest streak of any current Hornet. He was the Defensive Player of the Week in the Big Sky Conference after collecting three sacks Sept. 16 in the 30-23 victory over Stanford.
Kris Richardson enjoyed the luxury of having the same starting five on the line throughout the regular season in 2022 with Slater, Mejia, Garza, Stiefel and Brandon Weldon. Stiefel sustained a knee injury in the Causeway Classic, so Weldon moved to left tackle and was replaced at right guard by Riley in the two playoff games.
Sacramento State is No. 7 in the FCS rankings despite playing musical chairs on the offensive line. There have been five different starting combinations this season. The starting five in the past two games has been Slater, Mejia, Garza, Riley and Meek. Whatever continuity those five have developed will be put to the test Saturday in Missoula when Sacramento State tangles with No. 3 Montana.
Montana and Idaho are tied atop the Big Sky at 4-1 with the Vandals’ loss coming against the Grizzlies on Oct. 14. Montana lost to Northern Arizona in the Big Sky opener for both teams on Sept. 23.
Push will come to shove Saturday when the Hornets try to run the ball against the Grizzlies. Montana leads all FCS teams in fewest rushing yards allowed at 76.8 per game. The Grizzlies have yielded four rushing touchdowns. Sacramento State is averaging 189.9 rushing yards per game after gouging Idaho State for 273 and three touchdowns.
Sacramento State should go to the FCS playoffs for the fourth consecutive year. The Hornets are 6-2 with three weeks to go in the regular season and teams with seven wins are virtually guaranteed of going. UC Davis and Portland State are both 4-4, so the loser of Saturday’s game in Davis will have no chance of reaching seven victories.
The Hornets and Aggies will meet in the 70th edition of the Causeway Classic on Nov. 18 in Davis. Sacramento State has won three in a row against UC Davis after losing seven of the previous nine meetings. The Aggies lead the series 46-23.