Bulldogs pull away late to top Hornets in home opener

Featured photo – Redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil tosses the ball during Fresno State’s home opener against the Sacramento State Hornets. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)

Fresno State freshman linebacker and Clovis High alum Josh Hokit makes a tackle as a member of the kickoff unit during the Bulldogs' 31-3 home-opening victory over Sacramento State Saturday, Sept. 10 at Bulldog Stadium. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)
Fresno State freshman linebacker and Clovis High alum Josh Hokit makes a tackle as a member of the kickoff unit during the Bulldogs’ 31-3 home-opening victory over Sacramento State Saturday, Sept. 10 at Bulldog Stadium. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)

Daniel Leon | Editor
@ClovisRoundup

In their Week 2 matchup game against Sacramento State, the Fresno State Bulldogs (1-1) found themselves struggling to move the ball for a majority of the game before exploding for 21 fourth-quarter points for the 31-3 home-opening victory.

“I really want to thank the Red Wave and the students for coming out – that was a great crowd for the opener,” Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter said, referring to the announced crowd of 31,817. “I really appreciate their effort. In that first half, we wish we would’ve given them a better show but I like how our guys responded in the second half.”

Defensively, the Bulldogs dominated but the offensive side of the ball was a different story as they struggled to move the ball for three quarters before finding their footing.

“Offensively, we’re still a work in progress,” DeRuyter said. “We made a commitment to run the ball better and I think we wore on them as things went on but early on, we struggled to block and we have to get those things cleaned up.”

As the second half wore on, the ‘Dogs started settling down and finding a rhythm. Early in the fourth was when the ‘Dogs went on a roll to seal the game, starting with a 17-yard run from junior Dontel James to go up 17-3.

Fresno State receiver KeeSean Johnson celebrates with an offensive lineman after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)
Fresno State running back Dontel James carries the ball during the Bulldogs’ home opener against Sacramento State. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)

Midway through the fourth, senior corner Tyquwan Glass intercepted Sac State’s Nate Ketteringham near midfield on an underthrown ball. The pick helped set up the team’s second score of the period as redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil drove the offense down the field and from four yards out, found receiver KeeSean Johnson in the end zone. Five minutes later, hooked up with Johnson again, this time on a corner fade.

“We just weren’t doing our job [in the first half], particularly me,” Virgil said. “There were a lot of times where I wasn’t executing on my reads and passes – I think that was the biggest thing. Sac State came and they played their game but we just had a lot of times when one of us wasn’t doing our job.

Fresno State receiver KeeSean Johnson celebrates with an offensive lineman after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)
Fresno State receiver KeeSean Johnson celebrates with an offensive lineman after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter. (Nick Baker/Clovis Roundup)

“We won but I should’ve played a lot better,” Virgil said. “I’m grateful to have the other 10 guys on the field – they played a good game and our receivers made plays late to seal the deal for us. We’ll take the win but it’s not really the performance that we wanted to have.”

Virgil finished with 274 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-42 attempts.

James led the Bulldogs on the ground with 27 carries for 130 yards and a score.

In the first quarter, sophomore running back and Bullard alum Dejonte O’Neal pierced through a hole on the left side for an 8-yard rushing touchdown and Kody Kroening later connected on a 21-yard field goal to put the ‘Dogs up 10-0.

The Bulldogs looked to go into halftime with the two score advantage but a muffed punt return cost them as it set up Sac State in Bulldog territory, where kicked Devon Medeiros would eventually get the Hornets on the board with a 44-yard field goal to cut the halftime lead to 10-3.

“Winning is the key thing,” DeRuyter said. “At home, we like entertaining the fans, but the bottom line is, we have to find a way to win. If you can do both, great. I know early on, we did not execute very well and that could be frustrating for the coaches, as well as the fans, and I get that. We finally got it going late, and I am not going to apologize for a win. We’ll take the win but we have a lot of things to learn from, and we have got to get a lot better in our execution.”