Sacramento State has sense of unfinished business going into FCS playoff game vs. Richmond

Xavier Mascareñas/xmascarenas@sacbee.com

Troy Taylor likes losing as much as the next guy likes to have his molars yanked at the dentist’s office, or having a last-minute tax audit conducted by a fellow who does not smile.

Losses hurt. They sting. They linger. Taylor is a coach who isn’t much used to setbacks as a coach, having gone 58-3 during a championship march at Folsom High School with co-coach Kris Richardson and producing a 23-1 run in the Big Sky Conference since taking over at Sacramento State before the 2019 season. The 11-0 Hornets are seeded second in the FCS field and host the Richmond Spiders (9-3) on Saturday at 2 p.m. with a team sense of unfinished business.

The Hornets for all their Big Sky success have gone 0-2 in the FCS playoffs since 2019. Taylor didn’t cancel Christmas last season at home after absorbing a crushing 24-19 setback to South Dakota State, the top national seed this season. But the frown lingered because he felt for his players who worked so hard to get to this point.

“I wasn’t very jolly,” Taylor said with a laugh after Tuesday’s practice. “It used to take me months to get over losses. I’ve gotten better about it because, as a leader, you’ve got to be able to move on from it and learn from it. You don’t like losing. It’s one of those things that, if you play sports long enough, it’s part of the deal. The reality is, there’s only one team that wins the last game. It’s how you respond.”

The Hornets responded from their 2021 playoff exit by not losing a game since. They are balanced with a seamless two-quarterback system with Jake Dunniway and Asher O’Hara, a 1,000-yard rusher in Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Cameron Skattebo and pass-catching options in tight end Marshel Martin and receiver Pierre Willaims.

The offensive line has been the unsung foundation of the team under Richardson, Sacramento State’s assistant head coach. The defense, led by Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year Marte Mapu, has earned game balls for a lot of key stops that led to a Big Sky championship three-peat.

Each of the Sacramento State coaches studied Richmond’s 41-0 playoff-opening win over Davidson. They all came away impressed as the Spiders of Virginia rolled up yards, including 267 on 29-of-32 passing by Reece Udinski. That was an FCS playoff record for accuracy. The 24-year-old senior has passed for 3,398 yards and 26 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He has a host of fast receivers, posing a nice challenge for the Hornets.

Sacramento State defensive coordinator Andy Thompson revels in the chance to pit his defense against such a formidable passing team.

“They’re going to throw it a ton,” he said. “They have a big, tall quarterback, and he’s good. We’ve got to always attack on defense and give them different looks. Overall, we’re going to do what we always do.”

Added Taylor on the Spiders, “Their quarterback is incredibly accurate. He just never misses. They’re a very sound, physical team, what you’d expect in a second-round playoff team.”

The coach added about his team, “I like our chances this week. If we don’t play well, though, we’ll lose. It’s that simple.”

Richmond (9-3) at Sacramento State (11-0)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

Where: Hornet Stadium

On air: ESPN+, ESPN 1320 radio

Of note: This is Richmond’s first football game in California, ever. ... This will be a 2,782-mile trip to Sacramento for the Spiders. ... Richmond is in the playoffs for the 12th time, including FCS semifinal showings in 2007, 2015 and 2016. The program won the FCS championship in 2008. ... Richmond is led on defense by junior linebacker Tristan Wheeler, who has 361 career tackles. ... Sac State’s 11 victories represent a single-season program record, bettering the 10-win team that reached the Division II national semifinals in 1988. ... The only other unbeaten teams left in the FCS this season are Jackson State under coach Deion Sanders and Holy Cross. ... The Hornets needed just 10 games to set the school single-season record in rushing yards with 2,757. ... This is Sac State’s first game against a team from the Eastern time zone since playing Hofstra in 1996.