Dropping disappointment

Four points may have made all the difference in the football world for Sacramento State last Dec. 9 in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. Settling for a field goal after reaching Incarnate Word’s 5-yard line in the second quarter was costly.

Two running plays resulted in a loss of 2 yards, leaving the Hornets with one play to score a touchdown on third-and-goal at the 7. Running back Marcus Fulcher made it 12 yards to go with a false start penalty.

Sacramento State coaches and players react after Marcus Fulcher dropped a pass in the 66-63 loss to Incarnate Word.

The worst infraction for Fulcher came on third down. An opportunity to get a touchdown ended when Fulcher let a pass from Jake Dunniway slip through his hands. Fulcher was as open as a 24-hour convenience store and could have strolled to the end zone.

Kyle Sentkowski’s 30-yard field goal put the Hornets ahead 17-14. The lead did not last long. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the last five minutes of the first half to take a 28-17 lead to the locker room.

Halftime gave Fulcher a few minutes to decide whether he was going to allow one bad play to derail him. The junior had a productive first half with four carries for 51 yards and two receptions for 21 yards. His 35-yard touchdown run in the first quarter ended with Fulcher swiping a beverage from a fan at the north end of the field.

After he realized the beverage was beer, Fulcher pretended to take a drink before returning the plastic cup to the fan. He handled the cup much better than he did the pass from Dunniway that left the Hornets thristing for seven points.

Incarnate Word won 66-63, so four points could have resulted in Sacramento State hosting a semifinal game against North Dakota State. A victory would have also delayed head coach Troy Taylor’s departure to Stanford.

Marcus Fulcher

No one needs to remind Fulcher about all that. He has not forgotten and likely never will because of the lesson he learned from adversity. 

“Me getting down on myself at that moment would have made it worse. You have to bounce back and be mature,” Fulcher said. “You have to own up to it and look in the mirror. You’re not just playing for yourself. I’ve got my parents watching me and my family watching me.”

Disappointment has turned into determination for Fulcher in 2023. He is the No. 1 running back at long last and proved himself worthy in last Saturday’s 38-24 win over Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound Fulcher ran for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He also had two receptions for 17 yards. 

Fulcher climbed atop the depth after Cameron Skattebo transferred to Arizona State. Skattebo also ran for 71 yards and scored a touchdown last Saturday in his debut with the Sun Devils, who held off Southern Utah for a 24-21 victory. 

“Being No. 1 is what I’ve dreamed of,” Fulcher said “I’m ready for it. I feel like it’s time. I feel like no one can stop us.”

Texas A&M-Commerce will try its luck at containing Sacramento State at 7 p.m. Saturday at Hornet Stadium. The Lions had little luck against UC Davis last week, allowing 279 yards on the ground in a 48-10 loss.

Taking the Lions for granted would be a mistake, Fulcher said, because one play can turn the tide in any game. He knows that all too well.

Kyle Sentkowski’s 30-yard field goal broke a 14-all tie, but the Hornets did not have the lead for long. The Cardinals scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes of the first half to take a 28-17 lead to the locker room.

Big Sky pie for Hornets, Aggies

Sacramento State and UC Davis had 33 reasons to give thanks Wednesday when the All-Big Sky Conference team was announced. The Hornets set a school record with 18 players honored, which was fitting given that Sacramento State was 8-0 in the Big Sky and will take an 11-0 record into the FCS playoffs as the No. 2 seed. The Aggies had 15 players selected after a 6-5 season that fell short of the postseason and expectations.

Sacramento State earned two of the top four honors with running back Cameron Skattebo and linebacker Marte Mapu being named the Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively. This was the first time that one team swept the awards since 2012. Troy Taylor shared the Coach of the Year award with Brett Vigen of Montana State, which was also 8-0 in the Big Sky and is the No. 4 seed in the playoffs with a 10-1 record. Taylor was lauded for the third time in as many seasons with the Hornets.

Linebacker Armon Bailey joined Mapu on the first-team defense. Bailey leads the Hornets in tackles (78) and sacks (six), a testament to the Vanden High graduate’s perseverance after missing nine games in 2021 and five in 2019 with injuries. Sacramento State did not play in the spring of 2021 after COVID-19 forced the 2020 season to be postponed.

Other first-team selections for the Hornets were wide receiver Pierre Williams, tight end Marshel Martin, guards Jackson Slater and Brandon Weldon, kicker Kyle Sentkowski and Asher O’Hara as the all-purpose player.

UC Davis had six players selected to the first-team – quarterback Miles Hastings, running back Ulonzo Gilliam, tackle Nick Amoah, defensive end Zach Kennedy, safety Rex Connors and special teamer Lan Larison. Hastings led the conference in passing yards (3,048) and completion percentage (69.8) in his first season as the full-time starter. The sophomore threw six interceptions in 367 passing attempts this season after being picked off eight times in 215 attempts last season, when he started five games.

Hornets, Aggies earn honors

UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins had much more on his mind Tuesday than trying to find out how many of his Aggies were selected to the All-Big Sky Conference team. The Aggies are taking a crash course on South Dakota State in preparation for facing the Jackrabbits in the first round of the FCS playoffs on Saturday in Brookings, S.D. Even after Hawkins learned 12 players were honored, he did not jump out of his seat at his weekly press conference and celebrate.

“For every head coach who goes through the all-conference selection committee, it’s unbelievable,” Hawkins said. “There’s a lot of bartering that goes on and a lot of arguing. Life’s not fair, football’s not fair and in many cases all-conference teams are not fair. I’ve been doing this a long time and all-conference teams are always a head-scratcher. And they’ll probably continue to be.”

Josiah Erickson (44)

Three UC Davis players were named to the first team – guard Jake Parks, cornerback Brandon Perryman and running back Ulonzo Gilliam Jr. Big Sky champion Sacramento State had six first-team selections – wide receiver Pierre Williams, tight end Marshel Martin, center Thomas Parker, defensive end Josiah Erickson, kicker Kyle Sentkowski and all-purpose player Asher O’Hara.

Five Sacramento State players were second-team selections – offensive tackle Kooper Richardson, guard Brandon Weldon, outside linebacker Marte Mapu, inside linebacker Marcus Hawkins and cornerback Munchie Filer III. Richardson played three seasons at UC Davis and came to Sacramento State as a graduate transfer to play for his father Kris and with his brother Kaden.

UC Davis swept the second-team selections picks for special teams with punter Dan Whelan, kicker Isaiah Gomez, kick returner Lan Larison, punt returner Isaiah Thomas and all-purpose player Trent Tompkins,. Other second-team picks for the Aggies were tight end McCallan Castles, center Connor Pettek, defensive tackle Bryce Rodgers and safety Jaylin White. Sacramento State had five third-team selections – quarterback Jake Dunniway, running back Cameron Skattebo, cornerback Malik Jeter and punter Sam Clark. Defensive tackle Jett Stanley was honorable mention.

The Hornets are the No. 4 seed in the FCS playoffs and await the winner of the UC Davis-South Dakota State game in the second round on Dec. 4 at Hornet Stadium. UC Davis would welcome another shot at Sacramento State after the Hornets rolled to a 27-7 rout in the 67th annual Causeway Classic. Sacramento State has won the past two Causeway clashes and would likely be riding a three-game winning streak against UC Davis had the Hornets played last spring.