Sacramento State’s march through the NCAA FCS playoffs came to an end Saturday afternoon in the DakotaDome, the Hornets undone by injuries, turnovers and stout defense from a surging program.
Seeded No. 3 in the field, South Dakota played the part of championship contender in delivering a 34-24 victory over Sacramento State in a second-round contest in Vermillion, South Dakota, improving to 10-2 while ending the Hornets’ campaign at 8-4.
Sacramento State starting quarterback Kaiden Bennett suffered a shoulder injury the first half, an ailment that has dogged the Folsom High School graduate for much of the season. He was relieved by junior Carson Camp, who started multiple seasons at the position for South Dakota before his transfer last winter.
Camp was in a neck-and-neck battle for the Hornets starting job in training camp, and he rallied the Hornets from 17-0 down with inspired play, leading to two Marcus Fulcher touchdown runs to pull the Hornets to within 24-14 at the half.
Camp hit Jared Gipson for a 3-yard touchdown pass to account for the final score with 1:37 to play. South Dakota then ran out the clock. Camp passed fro 168 yards on 14-of-23 passing. Fulcher rushed for 73 yards on 14 carries in his final game for the Hornets.
Aidan Bouman passed for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 11-of-16 passing for South Dakota, which advances to an FCS quarterfinal for the first time since moving up to Division I in 2008. Charles Pierre Jr. rushed for 123 yards on 13 carries for the Coyotes.
South Dakota has an FCS program-best 10 wins, its only losses coming against FBS No. 9-ranked Missouri of the SEC and FCS No. 1 South Dakota State. The Coyotes have allowed just 10 points in victories with a defense that is ranked in the top 10 in the FCS. The Hornets were just the third team to score more than 20 points against them.
South Dakota scored a defensive touchdown to make it 17-0. Bennett was hit while carrying the ball, jarring it loose, and Mi’Quise Grace returned the fumble 56 yards to the end zone.
Sacramento State was coming off a 42-35 win at North Dakota, a game in which the Hornets committed no penalties or turnovers and yielded no sacks. Bennett was at his best, passing for 207 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 126 and two scores.
The Hornets this season joined Montana, Montana State, North Dakota State and South Dakota State as the only programs to qualify for the last four fall FCS playoff tournaments. Sacramento State entered this season having won three consecutive Big Sky Conference championships before losing three Big Sky games in top-10 FCS matchups.
South Dakota is a member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the same as North Dakota and top-ranked South Dakota State.
Sacramento State’s victory at North Dakota last week was the first road playoff win in the history of the program, dating back to the team’s first playoff showing in 1988 in Division II.