Cats escape Sacramento State with comeback win

The third-ranked Bobcats (8-1, 5-1) found themselves playing catch-up at Sacramento State (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday, but Cody Kirk powered the Cats to a very important 20-17 win. On a day that saw multiple records fall — including DeNarius McGhee setting the bar for most career wins as an MSU quarterback (27) and his coach, Rob Ash, moving into a tie with Sonny Holland for career wins at 47 — the Cats saw the game as another step in the right direction.

“It’s never been about my record as a coach. It’s about seeing these kids rewarded for their hard work,” Ash said. “Our kids work so hard, and they never quit fighting in a game.” Saturday’s game was a perfect example.

Though McGhee was efficient and didn’t turn the ball over, he completed just 14 of 22 passes for 105 yards. The Cats once again rode Kirk to the finish line. Kirk scored first on a 15-yard run with 7:10 left in the first quarter, and a Rory Perez field goal gave the Cats a 10-3 lead. The Hornets answered with a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Garrett Safron to wide receiver TJ Knowles to tie the game going into halftime.

With 7:02 left in the third quarter, Rory Perez hit a long 44-yard field goal to put the Cats up by three, which would eventually be the difference in the game. The Hornets answered immediately. In 56 short seconds, Safron tossed a 76-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Morris Norisse to take a 17-13 lead with 5:25 to go in the third.

Again, Kirk proved too dominant for the Hornets’ defense. A six-play drive that featuring two long, powerful rushes by Kirk and a tricky wildcat play that saw Kirk hand the ball to Shawn Johnson, who then ran for 30 yards, was capped with a 2-yard touchdown run by Kirk. Kirk finished with 129 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns.

The MSU defense played superb football to hold the Hornets to 17 points, and didn’t allow a score in the final eight minutes with the help of a late interception by Joel Fuller to seal the deal. The Bobcat defense held Sacramento State to 82 yards rushing with the help of Na’a Moeakiola.

“Na’a was definitely our player of the game on defense,” Ash said. “He was aggressive and played fabulously.” Moeakiola finished with nine tackles, five of them for a loss of yards, and one sack.

With another win in the bag, coach Ash and the Cats return home for their final regular season home game against Portland State (2-4, 3-6) on Saturday Nov. 10 at 1:35 p.m.

Portland State is coming off an upset loss to Northern Colorado, but the Cats can expect the same thing they got from the Hornets — hard-nosed football in the trenches featuring a run game that averages over 200 yards a game.

Though Portland holds opponents to roughly 130 yards rushing per game, Kirk should finish above that mark. Portland is also known to bring the blitz having recorded 19 sacks this season, so look for McGhee to set up on the run and make things happen with his legs.

Prediction: Cats win, 34-24.