In the fall of 1988 George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis for the right to replace Ronald Reagan as President, Ben Johnson introduced the world to its first steroid scandal at the Seoul Summer Olympics and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Coming to America, Big and Die Hard were the top grossing films. That same year, the Sacramento State football team put together its most successful season, advancing to the NCAA Div. II semifinals and posting the nation's top offense.
Coming off a 4-7 season the year before, a lot of questions surrounded the Hornets as they entered the 1988 season. Head coach Bob Mattos returned for his 11th year leading the team as well as the majority of his staff which included defensive coordinator Mike Clemons, and long time assistant Bob Miller, Neil Anderson, Rick and Randy Plumbtree, Dave Hoskins, Lou Patrone and Jerry Kushner. The staff also had a pair of young assistants, Greg Knapp and Darren Arbett, who went on to long professional careers.
Sacramento State opened the season on the road with an easy 48-16 win at Chico State. The team then showed its offensive firepower a week later while destroying Humboldt State, 55-17, at Hornet Stadium. In those first two games, the Hornets combined for over 1,200 yards of offense while limiting the opposition to less than 350.
While the first two wins were impressive, one major task laid in front of Sacramento State. UC Davis had dominated the Causeway Classic, winning 18 consecutive meetings leaving many, including UCD head coach Jim Sochor, questioning the validity of the rivalry.
After a scoreless first quarter, Marlan Meggers hauled in an 18-yard pass to put the Hornets on top. Two rushing touchdowns gave the Aggies a 14-7 lead at the break but the Hornets tied the game in the third period on a 9-yard rush from Ed Bueno.
The teams traded blows in the fourth quarter beginning with a 1-yard Bueno rush to put Sacramento State on top, 21-14. Jeff Bridewell pulled the Aggies even with a 1-yard quarterback sneak with 7:25 to play. A 33-yard field goal from Jim Gill gave the Hornets a short-lived three-point edge as Shola Adeyemo caught a 48-yard touchdown pass with 2:44 remaining.
Quarterback Bryan Pendergast, who replaced the injured Drew Wyant, started the comeback with a 20-yard strike to Zebede Brye which took the ball to the Sacramento State 47-yard line. After a rush for no gain and an incomplete pass, the Hornets faced 3rd-and-10. Pendergast stepped into the pocket and delivered a strike to Mark Young on a crossing pattern in the middle of the field. Young was then able to out run four UC Davis defenders down the right sideline for the final score.
Angus McClure, Offensive Lineman (Current Defensive Line Coach at UCLA)
"I think what set us off was Jim Sochor saying that it wasn't a rivalry until we win a game. We always thought Davis was our rival and that got us juiced up. The night before the game Mattos and Lloyd Snelson organized a team meal at the Sheepherders Inn. We walked into the place and there were probably close to 100 former players that were there. A lot of them got up and spoke to the team about what the game meant. At the end of the night, Lloyd got up and dropped his pants to show us the Hornet tattoo he got the night before and the place went nuts.
"We were in the game the whole time. We had our second string quarterback in and Mark Young had a miscommunication about his route but caught the ball to win the game."
Mike Clemons, Defensive Coordinator
"We brought in all the alumni the night before and they all adopted a player. Every former player got up and spoke and Tom Bolinger ended up jumping off a table and had the players catch him to show how the much faith the alumni had with the current team. The players left that event ready to tear someone up. We called that game the Ghosts of the 1400 because we were trying to win for all the players that weren't able to beat Davis during that losing streak."
Mark Massari, Linebacker (Current Director of Athletics at UC Santa Barbara)
"The Sochor quote that came out, made us fighting mad. Our coaches brought it up at the team meeting early in the week and it became the focus. It was a night game at Davis but they were a good program. I just remember that the game was back-and-forth and there was a great crowd. They went down and scored and Pendergast kept us in it. Mark made a great catch and out ran everyone down the sideline."
The first slip up of the season came a week later at Southern Utah. The Thunderbirds took a 21-17 lead with five seconds left in the first half on a 2-yard touchdown run. That score proved to be the final points of the game, handing the Hornets their first loss.
A week later Sacramento State appeared headed for a second consecutive loss, trailing 29-14 early in the fourth quarter at Cal Poly. Making his first start of the season, Tony Trosin rallied the team for the final 16 points of the game to secure a 30-29 victory. Trosin hit Young for an 18-yard touchdown to start the comeback but failed to connect on a two-point conversion attempt. Jim Gill made a 26-yard field goal midway through the period to make the score 29-27.
Cal Poly appeared in good shape to win the game after forcing the Hornets to punt with 1:14 left in the game. However, the punt return was fumbled and recovered by Sacramento State. Trosin found Ron Weaver for a 53-yard pass taking the ball to the Cal Poly five. Two players later, Hair went around the right end for a 1-yard touchdown with 19 seconds left.
A relatively easy 28-14 win over Santa Clara came before the Hornets had the challenge of playing Div. I Pacific on Oct. 22 at Stagg Memorial Stadium in Stockton. The Tigers jumped to a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter and that score held until 5:43 remained in the first half when Zebedee Brye caught a 23-yard pass from Trosin. A fumble two plays later gave the ball back to Sacramento State and Trosin put the Hornets up for the remainder of the game when Marlen Meggers caught a 24-yard touchdown. The pair connected for a second TD shortly after for a 28-yard touchdown which was described in the hand-typed play-by-play as "Trosin passes complete to Meggers NOBODY IN THE SAME TOWN AS HIM."
At the end of the 30-21 victory, the Hornets had amassed 459 yards while forcing UOP to four fumbles and limiting the team to 266 yards.
"I just remember that game as a knock down-drag out. They had a great group of players but our offense was able to match them. We had a couple of good stands on defense and were able to control the fourth quarter."
"Pacific was the big D-I program from down the road. When we beat them I knew that this team was pretty good. That season for me was all about Tony Trosin. He was a big deal in high school and had moved around a little bit and was playing tight end. He comes in and starts due to some injuries and really came out against Pacific."
"Pacific was two divisions higher than us. We saw that as a rivalry game because we always felt like second fiddle to them. We thought that if we were able to go down and knock them off then we'd get some respect."
Much like earlier in the season when the team lost at Southern Utah following the emotional UC Davis victory, Sacramento State was tripped up at Portland State. With the exception of a 7-7 tie, the Hornets led through the first three quarters, carrying a 29-21 lead into the final period. However, PSU scored 22-unanswered points in the fourth to become the top-ranked team in the West Region.
"Portland State was filthy rich with talent. That team was coached by Pokey Allen and he had athletes everywhere. They ended up going all the way to the championship game that season."
The regular season came to a close with a 40-20 win at Cal State Northridge (which had been ranked as high as fifth that season in Div. II) and a 60-0 home victory over Cal Lutheran in which the Hornets outgained CLU, 457-59.
Those two convincing victories and an 8-2 regular season record helped the team secure its first NCAA Div. II playoff berth. With no selection show, internet, e-mail or text messages, it took a while for the team to learn that it would not have to go far as it was selected to play at UC Davis for the second time in the season.
Unlike the first matchup, Sacramento State has relatively little trouble dispatching the Aggies, 35-14, in front of 10,700 fans at Toomey Field. After UCD took an early 7-0 lead, Trosin hit Young for a 75-yard pass to tie the score at the end of the first quarter. Bueno rushed for two touchdowns in the second quarter to make the score, 21-14, at the half. The Hornet defense held UCD scoreless in the second half while the offense took advantage of a 34-yard reverse run by Young and a 55-yard TD pass from Trosin to Michael Johnson.
"We thought that we were maybe going to go to Saint Mary's (who was 10-0) or they were going to play us at home but Davis jumped them and they got selected to host. The game itself reminded me of what college football is all about. It was a bright day with a great atmosphere. We dominated them and I remember Gary Lunsford intercepting a pass in the end zone which stopped their drive which would have narrowed it down. I just remember that they weren't able to do much against us."
"We found out that we were playing Davis on Sunday afternoon from the coaches. We were excited to play them again because there were a lot of people who said we couldn't beat them twice in the same year. We were surprised that we had to go and play them in Davis but that only added fuel to the fire."
"The way the playoffs worked, Davis was seeded higher than we were so we had to go to their place for the game. It was a domination. We controlled their passing game and were able to get to the quarterback."
The team played its first home playoff game in school history when welcomed North Carolina Central on Nov. 26. The game was dominated by the Hornets who built a 42-0 lead early in the third quarter before cruising to a 56-7 win. Sacramento State rushed for 333 yards and threw for 358. Robert Martinson rushed for 140 and Ed Bueno added two rushing TDs.Trosin was 21-of-30 for 292 and four touchdowns and Drew Wyant threw for another score. Weaver was the team's top receiver with eight catches for 167 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, the team limited NCCU to 189 yards, intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble.
"They had a good quarterback who could run but we were able to shut them down."
"This was back when VCRs were coming in. My first year at Sacramento State we still used 18mm film. We had switched to VHS in '88 but I remember that the film we got (from NCCU) was so bad that we didn't watch it. I remember that they were probably the biggest offensive and defensive lines that we saw all year and they had Robert Massey who went on to play with the New Orleans Saints."
"Their QB was ranked as one of the top five in the country. I believe they came in undefeated and they had made a lot of comments during the week about how our defense couldn't match up with them. Before the game, they ran through our warmups and that got us going. We went in to the locker room before the game and the guys were livid. It was one of the greatest defensive games we've ever played. (The quarterback) and no place to go and no hole to hide in."
As the calendar turned to December, Sacramento State was faced with the challenge of traveling to Fargo, N.D., to face top-ranked North Dakota State and battle a wind chill of 5 degrees.
NDSU never trailed in the game en route to a 42-20 win. The Bison, who went on to defeat Portland State in the Div. II championship, rushed for 417 yards and four touchdowns. Trosin rushed for a touchdown and also threw TD passes to Young and Weaver to account for the Hornets' points.
"We got off the plane in Fargo and all you could see was a sea of white for miles. Our guys had never seen that type of weather before. When we got to the field on Saturday, their players came out sleeveless and our guys had about 14 layers of clothes on.
"Back then, they had a sign outside the locker room that said the road to the Div. II championships runs through Fargo and they were right. They had a great offensive line and ran the option well. We were able to hang in there with them for a while but it was a big pass play that did us in."
"We punched with them for a little bit. We stayed at a hotel on the Minnesota side of the border. I knew it was a big deal when the Bison fans came to our hotel to welcome us. We did walk-through the day before at Dakota Field and it was nice. It was like 50 degrees and the wind wasn't blowing. The next day it was cold and it was the first time that a lot of our guys had been in weather that cold."
"What I'll always remember about that game is that we were flying home the next day and (Special Teams Coach Rick) Plumbtree comes to me at the airport and asks what my job was on punt return. I told him that I had outside contain. He then showed me a picture in the newspaper and says 'it doesn't look like you had it here, partner.'"
"It was below freezing. It was on the old rug (AstroTurf). We felt great going into that game but they had the home field advantage."
Following the season eight players earned first team all-Western Football Conference honors comprised of Hair, Young and offensive lineman Harry Williams on offense, Ken Stinnett, Derek Stigerts, J.R. Richards and Gary Lunsford on defense and kicker Jon Gill.
Ron Weaver (WR), Ty Endean (OL), Trosin, Fine Mau Mau (DL), Junior Nua (DL), John Kilgariff (LB) and Elijah Price (DB) were named to the second team. Brye, Curt McFarland (OL), Jerry McMahan (OL), Dave Nickerson (OL), Meggers (TE), Bueno (FB), Saia Loketti (DL) and Rick Belanger (LB) each earned honorable mention.