Devin Gandy does not earn his keep at Sacramento State by blocking. It might be mentioned in the fine print of the job description for a wide receiver, but the Hornets rely on Gandy for his sure hands and game-breaking speed.
Both attributes were evident last Saturday night at Stanford in Sacramento State’s 30-23 victory. Gandy caught a career-high five passes for 64 yards, including a 39-yarder on fourth-and-3 at the Stanford 45-yard line in the third quarter.
That gave the Hornets a first-and-goal at the 6, but the drive ended when Kaiden Bennett threw an interception. The turnover was not costly because Stanford’s ensuing possession also ended with an interception.
Each team got two field goals after that with Zach Schreiber’s 44-yarder pulling Sacramento State into a 23-all tie with 4:08 to play. The Hornets defense then stuffed the Cardinal to force a punt at the Stanford 19.
Bennett gained 4 yards on first down, but he followed with an incomplete pass to leave the Hornets with third-and-6 at the Stanford 49. Sacramento State was a play away from wasting its best drive start of the night.
The third-down play did not go according to offensive coordinator Bobby Fresques’ plan. Bennett dropped back to pass and noticed tight end Marshall Martin stayed put to block instead of taking off into his route.
Marcus Fulcher stayed in the backfield to protect Bennett, but the running back missed a block on blitzing linebacker Gaethan Bernadel. Bennett scrambled to his right in a desperate search for an open receiver.
The only available target turned out to be Fulcher, who had the good sense to flare out to the right. Bennett was nearly sacked as Bernadel pulled him down from behind when he managed to flip the ball to Fulcher.
Gandy was running a deep route on the right, but the sophomore cut it off after looking back to see Bennett was in trouble. After Fulcher caught the pass and found room to run, Gandy transformed into a blocker.
Safety Alaka’i Gilman was the last Stanford player with a chance to stop Fulcher from reaching the end zone. Gandy made sure that would not happen by cutting off Gilman and knocking him out of Fulcher’s way.
Gilman had a 24-pound advantage on the 170-pound Gandy, but Gandy was prepared to confront the challenge.
“We’ve had a big emphasis on blocking the last couple of weeks, especially against Stanford,” said Gandy, who attended Silverado High School in Victorville. “They’re bigger guys because they play in the Pac-12.”
Sacramento State was not intimidated by Stanford’s size in its fourth win against an FBS team since 2011. Stanford was Sacramento State’s third Pac-12 victim, following Oregon State (2011) and Colorado (2012). The fourth victory came against Colorado State last season
By the time the Hornets returned to Sacramento, they were already looking ahead to Saturday’s game at Idaho. The game is one of two Big Sky Conference openers featuring two ranked teams. Sacramento is No. 4 and Idaho No. 7 in the latest FCS poll. No. 3 Montana State will travel to No. 8 Weber State.
Gandy did not play last October when the Hornets beat the Vandals 31-24. Sacramento State blew a 17-point lead but came back to win when quarterback Asher O’Hara’ scored on a 2-yard run with 1:48 to play.
Surgery on his left knee forced Gandy to miss the 2022 regular season, but he played in the two FCS playoff games. He could have returned sooner, but playing in five games would have cost him a year of eligibility.
The Hornets wanted to have Gandy available in case they had four playoff games, the maximum for his participation without losing a year of eligibility. He marked his return to action with three receptions for 60 yards in the 38-31 playoff victory against Richmond.
His first catch was for 39 yards and erased any doubts about his knee, especially on a rain-soaked synthetic field.
“It was the best feeling because I put in the work to make it back. It was a big play and they knew they could rely on me,” said Gandy, who probably had a better feeling after the surprising victory against Stanford.