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Vikings come up 1 yard short

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Portland State receiver Thomas Carter stays on his feet against Southern Utah.After racking up 587 yards of offense Saturday night against Southern Utah, Portland State fell one yard short in its Big Sky Conference opener.

Trailing 49-42 in the closing seconds, the Vikings had four chances from the 2-yard line or close, and three chances with the ball on the Thunderbirds' 1. After a 1-yard run on first-and-goal from the 2 and two incomplete passes, on fourth down with seven seconds remaining freshman quarterback Kieran McDonagh tried to plow his way into the end zone.

Southern Utah stopped the 6-1 240-pounder, though, and Portland State lost by a touchdown at Jeld-Wen Field before an announced crowd of 6,353.

“Coach called my number, and I tried to get in there,” McDonagh said. “Apparently it didn’t work. I thought I got in. But every guy is going to say that. I thought I was pretty close.”

Said Portland State coach Nigel Burton: “It was interesting. I’d like to see the film. It’s a 240-pound guy who is 6-1 and stuck the ball out. It must have been a heck of a (defensive) surge.”

Portland State looked dominant early, jumping to a 21-3 lead in the first quarter. Then the Vikings much-maligned defense began bending. Portland State blew coverages and allowed Southern Utah to win the battle in the trenches en route to amassing 397 yards.

“When you give up 49 points, it’s never good,” PSU linebacker Ian Sluss said. “We need to back up our offense when they put up 42.”

Southern Utah ran the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown to tie the game at 28-28.

Portland State would go up seven points, and Southern Utah would tie the game again.

With 1:35 left, Southern Utah fullback Lavell Ika dove through the line for a 1-yard touchdown that put the Thunderbirds up 49-42. It was Southern Utah’s only lead of the game.

Portland State then mounted a 68-yard drive that brought them down to the 1 with 13 seconds remaining. The Vikings just could not punch the ball into the end zone one final time.

“They all hurt,” Burton said, of losing (his team is 1-3, with a win over NAIA Carroll). “You work 365 days for 11 to 16 opportunities, and when you blow one of those, they don’t feel very good.”

Portland State opened the game with a five-play, 64-yard touchdown drive. It culminated with a 35-yard touchdown pass from McDonagh to Kalua Noa.

After Southern Utah failed to pick up a first down on its first three plays, the Thunderbirds were forced to punt. But Vikings return man Alex Toureen was unable to hold on to the kick, and Southern Utah recovered the fumble on the PSU 13.

The Thunderbirds had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Colton Cook.

Portland State running back Shaquille Richard sent the Vikings into the second quarter up 21-3 with two touchdown runs. On his first score, Richard bounced an inside handoff to the outside and took the ball 37 yards to the house.

For his second TD, Richard ran around the left side, utilized the good push by the Portland State line and easily scored from the 6.

Richard finished with 93 yards on 14 carries.

“When I’m out there, I just play and do what the team needs from me,” Richard said. “I just wanted to make big plays. I was reading everything.”

Southern Utah opened the second quarter with a 39-yard field goal by Colton to make the score 21-6.

On the Vikings' next possession, McDonagh was picked off by Southern Utah defensive back LeShaun Sims at the 40.

The Thunderbirds were able to capitalize on the turnover, as Sorensen threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Easton Pedersen. After Cook converted the PAT, Southern Utah trailed 21-13 with 8:42 remaining in the first half.

Portland State made it a two-score game when running back DJ Adams, who would total 94 yards on 15 carries, broke two tackles on his way into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.

Southern Utah closed out the half with a 16-yard TD pass from Sorensen to Brian Wilson. After the PAT, the teams went into the locker room with Portland State up 28-20.

After intermission, Southern Utah return man Josh Smith took the kickoff straight up the middle. He ran into a mass of bodies just after he crossed the 20. Smith was able to bounce the return outside, though. He turned up the sidelines and ran free to the end zone. The 95-yard return made the score 28-26.

On the 2-point conversion, Sorensen found Griff McNabb in the corner of the end zone, and the score was 28-28.

With 9:37 remaining in the third quarter, Sluss picked off a Sorensen pass and the Vikings took possession on the Southern Utah 17.

Four plays later, McDonagh pitched the ball to receiver Nevin Lewis on a reverse. With the Southern Utah defense crashing down on a fake handoff to Adams, Lewis went untouched, 2 yards into the end zone. Nick Fernandez's PAT gave Portland State a 35-28 lead.

Southern Utah stormed back with a seven-play, 63-yard TD drive. The Thunderbirds crossed the goal line on a 29-yard pass from Sorensen to Mitch Jessop and moved back into a tie at 35-35.

The Vikings took the lead with 1:59 remaining in the third quarter. McDonagh tried to force a pass into tight coverage, and it paid off. With a Southern Utah defensive back in his face, Vikings receiver Thomas Carter hauled in the 19-yard TD and put Portland State up 42-35.

McDonagh finished 23 of 37 passing for 270 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed 11 times for 52 yards.

“We game-planned all week for the coverages they were going to give us,” McDonagh said, of his passing success. “It held true the way we thought, and (receivers) just kept popping open.”

With 9:58 remaining, Richard lost the ball on a run up the gut, and Southern Utah recovered on the Portland State 39.

Two plays later, Sorensen completed a 39-yard TD pass to a wide-open Jessop and the score was 42-42.

Next week, Portland State will go on the road to play Northern Arizona.

Burton said he thinks Portland State still can win the Big Sky title.

“I don’t want to really build, I want to blow it up and start again,” he said. “This is a tough conference, and more than likely the team that’s going to win it is not going to be perfect, as was (the case) last year and many years in the past.

"We put ourselves behind the 8-ball a bit, but it’s nothing we still can’t fight our way out of.”